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2651  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Madoff on Market Failures & Martial Metaphors on: December 30, 2008, 03:10:18 PM
Wow, citing the UN to settle this debate. Perhaps you can next cite Bernie Madoff on market failures.

So let's make sure I have this straight: Hamas embeds itself in civilian infrastructure from which it launches attacks on Israel, knowing full well Israel will respond against Hamas command and control in a manner that will also cause civilian death and injuries. Israel has likely spent tens of millions developing munitions meant to limit and focus that response, but Hamas counts on collateral damage, and has been known to stage scenes of carnage when needed. Broadcasting images and claims that can't be confirmed by unbiased news sources, Hamas seeks to mobilize world opinion against the Israeli attacks they solicited, and you want to reward this behavior by giving Hamas exactly what it seeks. Make perfect freaking sense to me.

You are correct, however, that my choice of a tire for a metaphor was a poor one. You are much more like a noob who wanders onto the training floor certain he is in possession of singular martial truth. One tries to gently demonstrate there are other truths to be found, but no, it always turns into a tail chase where the UN sanctioned right thinking people technique is cited as the one true skill set. The circular dance grows so inane that all that's left is to demonstrate to the rest of the class that the noob's skills don't stand up to a true clash of sticks. Sad part is the noob then complains about how the demonstration was unfair, rather than reflecting on what is says about his singular truth.
2652  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: December 30, 2008, 02:20:53 PM
I mispoke; Lewinsky talked to Linda Tripp, who confided in Goldberg. Per Wikipedia:

Clinton scandal

Goldberg met Linda Tripp in the early part of the Clinton administration while assisting an author writing a book on Vince Foster. Goldberg advised Tripp to record all her (Tripp's) conversations with Monica Lewinsky. [6] In New York, where Goldberg lived, such surreptitious recordings would not have been illegal, but they were illegal in Maryland, where Tripp lived. Goldberg also urged Tripp to take the tapes to Kenneth Starr and brought the tapes to the attention of people working on the Paula Jones case. [7] She started speaking to reporters about the tapes in the fall of 1997, notably to Michael Isikoff of Newsweek.[8]
2653  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Oprah's Genome? on: December 30, 2008, 02:16:50 PM
Exposing Obama's Genome

And Oprah Winfrey's, Brad Pitts', and yours

Ronald Bailey | December 30, 2008

Cheap genome screening is becoming ever more widely available. For example, the price of a genome screening test offered by Silicon Valley startup 23andMe has dropped from $999 to $399, and it now reveals even more genetic information to customers. Let's say the price for such tests falls to the price of over-the-counter paternity tests, making it inexpensive and easy for DNA collected from anyone to be screened. Collecting DNA from suspects is a standard plot device in television shows like CSI: Miami and is a facet of real life crime solving. Investigators pick up a cigarette butt, a soft drink can, a toothpick, or a hair follicle, and have the residual DNA sequenced. All of us shed DNA and anyone could pick up our DNA and send it in for screening. But why would someone want to do that?
Imagine how many fans might be voyeuristically intrigued by the genetic details of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey or Brad Pitt. In fact, Winfrey famously had her DNA screened as part of a PBS television series, African American Lives, in an attempt to trace her African ancestry. Apparently, the results located her matrilineal ancestors among the Kpelle people of Liberia. Now, a waiter at the Table 52 restaurant in Chicago could take a water glass used by Winfrey and hand it over to an enterprising tabloid reporter for a couple of hundred bucks. The reporter could swab the lip of the glass and send in a sample of the talk show host's DNA for screening.

Given that everybody has some kind of genetic disease risks, the tabloid might later breathlessly report that Oprah is at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, or Crohn's disease. Based on the results of three different genetic markers related to macular degeneration, a sensational (and inaccurate) headline might read: "Oprah To Go Blind, Says Genetic Test." In fact, I am surprised that something like this hasn't already happened. Finding out this bit of titillating, but generally irrelevant, genetic information about entertainment or sports celebrities is no big deal. But what happens when the same thing is done to politicians?

University of Boston neurologist Robert Green and bioethicist George Annas recently considered the genetic privacy of politicians in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Both the press and voters are interested in the health of presidential candidates. Green and Annas point out that "some presidential candidates, including Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy, misled the public about their health status and that illness may have affected their ability to perform their duties." Roosevelt concealed the fact that, as a result of polio, he was a paraplegic confined to a wheel chair. Eisenhower hid the seriousness of his heart disease. Kennedy suffered from numerous debilitating ailments, most critically Addison's disease, an endocrine disease that produces fatigue and muscle weakness.

During the 2008 campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) allowed reporters three hours to look over nearly 1200 pages of his medical records. Democratic political activists published a full page advertisement in The New York Times calling on the 72-year-old McCain to release his medical records. The ad also hinted that the candidate might be hiding information about the possibility of a recurrence of melanoma that was surgically removed 8 years earlier. For his part, President-elect Barack Obama made available just a one-page letter attesting to his good health.

Green and Annas point out that McCain's father and grandfather died of heart attacks at 70 and 61 years of age, respectively. And Obama's grandfather died of prostate cancer at age 73. They note that current genetic screening tests can identify markers that have significant associations with heart disease and prostate cancer. Does the public have a legitimate interest in knowing if McCain has genetic markers indicating a higher risk for heart disease and that Obama has markers indicating a higher risk of prostate cancer? More problematically, some genetic markers can indicate a risk of psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder.

Again, it's just as easy to obtain a DNA sample from a presidential candidate as it would be to get one from a celebrity like Winfrey. Green and Annas are most worried that competing campaigns might engage in "genetic McCarthyism." That is, campaigns will seek to obtain DNA from their adversaries and then release genetic data that suggests that their opponents are somehow unhealthy. Such a tactic could be used to confuse the public because genetic information is easy to misinterpret and to misrepresent. Consequently, Green and Annas argue that "future presidential candidates should resist calls to disclose their own genetic information. We recommend that they also pledge that their campaigns will not attempt to obtain or release genomic information about their opponents." They reject the idea of making it a federal crime to sequence a candidate's DNA without consent. Oddly, Green and Annas overlook the plausible scenario in which some media organization surreptitiously obtains DNA from candidates, and then sequences it and reports the results.

Consider that the genetic risks suggested above for Oprah Winfrey are actually the results of my genetic screening test with 23andMe. The genetic screening company reports that 24 out of 100 people with my genotype will get type 2 diabetes between the ages 20 and 79. The average risk is 21.9 per 100 people. With regard to macular degeneration, 9.5 out of 100 people with my genotype will get it between the ages of 43 and 79. The average risk for people of European ethnicity is 7 out of 100. And 0.94 out 100 people with my genotype will get Crohn's disease between the ages of 20 and 79. The average risk for people of European ethnicity is 0.43 out of 100. I will save for a future article the good news that I also have a number of genetic markers that indicate lower risks for many other conditions. This is the kind of risk information that genetic screening tests will reveal. While I can think of plenty of reasons why I might not be cut out for politics, these genetic risks would not disqualify me, or anyone else, from political office.

Right now mendacious political activists and sensationalistic journalists could misrepresent and misinterpret genetic risk information. However, it is unlikely that such genetic risk information would be more toxic than claims that Obama is a secret Muslim. More and more Americans will learn about how to interpret genetic risks as genetic screening becomes routine and even more widely available in the next four to five years, making it less likely that such information can be abused. In any case, politicians, celebrities, and the rest of us should get ready for a world in which our DNA can be screened by anybody at anytime.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
2654  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 30, 2008, 12:22:08 PM
Wow; did you learn that at Wisconsin?  (My mom graduated from there and I was born and raised
as a child in Milwaukee - I had to laugh at your earlier comment about the Packers)

No, alas, I've learned it in numerous venues where folks of a hard left bent ignore cogent comments and instead restate the inane thesis ever more loudly each time they are challenged. Indeed, I'm trying to determine if you are of the useful idiot far left flavor, or if you are a True Believer who actually understands the real ends of groups like Hamas and obfuscates them as they are your ends too.

You no longer strike me as much of a sparring partner, and are instead starting to look like a hanging tire upon which one demonstrates why bad technique is best avoided.
2655  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: December 30, 2008, 10:24:16 AM
Who is Lucianne?

She is the federal employee who Monica Lewinsky took her tale of presidential trysts to.
2656  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 30, 2008, 10:21:35 AM
Then again, given the disparity of the number of Israeli's killed (5)  versus the terrible number of innocent women and children being killed,
Obama might listen to world and UN opinion and perhaps support more boats/trucks bringing medical supplies, food, and humanitarian
care.  And while of course always leaning toward and favoring Israel, I think he might be a bit more impartial than the Bush
administration has been in this matter.

And again, you fail to address the inanity of citing a disparity which Hamas is striving mightily to achieve. Your circular foolishness fails to provide much in the way of illumination and instead serves to underline your gross ignorance of asymmetric warfare as practiced by terrorists.

Time to get huffy and spout platitudes, I guess. . . .
2657  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China to Patrol Gulf of Aden? on: December 30, 2008, 10:12:10 AM
Fight Against Pirates Could Mend U.S.-China Ties

WASHINGTON - China's plans to join the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia could lead to a renewal of military exchanges between Beijing and Washington, a top U.S. military official said Dec. 18.

Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the Pacific Command, held out hopes for a revival in military relations after China said it was preparing to send warships to the Gulf of Aden in response to a pirate attack on a Chinese vessel.

"I hope the Chinese do (send ships to the Gulf of Aden) and we'll work closely with them," Keating said.

"I think this could be a springboard for a resumption of dialogue between PLA forces and U.S. Pacific Command forces," he said.

China suspended military contacts with the U.S. in October in protest over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan valued at $6.5 billion.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, nevertheless have warmed since President Ma Ying-jeou assumed office in Taiwan in May.

Keating said his command has been in touch with other agencies and military commands to provide information to the Peoples Liberation Army should it decide to deploy warships in Gulf of Aden.

The U.S. wants "to make sure they are aware of the lines of communications that are available to them... should they desire to send ships to the area of piracy most prevalent which is of course the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia."

Since the start of the year, about 100 ships have been attacked by Somali pirates who are holding 240 sailors for ransom.
2658  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: December 30, 2008, 09:51:58 AM
The book "Liberal Fascism" (the author's name slips my mind at the moment) discusses TR at some length. 

Jonathan Goldman, Lucianne's little boy.
2659  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Rising Ocean & Falling Sky on: December 30, 2008, 01:23:38 AM
Climate Report Downgrades Ice Loss; Media Reports Opposite
Michael Asher (Blog) - December 29, 2008 3:30 AM

Varying sea levels since the last ice age  (Source: Global Warming Art Project)
  Environmental reporting adheres to adage: "bad news sells better than good"

A new scientific report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program has sharply reduced earlier estimates of global ice loss. The CCSP, which coordinates the efforts of 13 different federal climate agencies, has released updated figures estimating combined ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland at 48 cubic miles per year, a figure the Washington Post dolefully reports as "accelerated" ice loss.

But is it?

In 2006, a widely-reported study estimated ice loss from Greenland alone to be over 57 cubic miles per year. Another the same year reported Antarctic ice loss of 36 cubic miles -- a combined annual total of over 93 cubic miles. The new estimate, however, is only about half as high. In most rational circles, this would be cause for celebration.

Not for the Washington Post, however. Ignoring earlier estimates, it casts the figure in a threatening light by noting it's twice the amount of ice locked in the Alps. It fails to mention, though, that those 48 cubic miles, when spread out over the planet's 139 million square miles of ocean, works out to a sea level rise of only 2.1 inches per century. For you metric types, that's about half a millimeter a year. Even factoring in an additional increase for thermal expansion, the value is far too small for concern.

Glossing over all this, the Washington Post instead reports a potential rise of four feet by the year 2100. The figure is based on the assumption of unforeseen positive feedback effects which might accelerate ice loss, despite the fact that no evidence exists that this is happening, and even the report's own authors considered such a scenario "unlikely".

When one considers sea level has been rising for the last 18,000 years, at an average of about 25 inches a century, one sees even less cause for alarm. The rate of increase has actually slowed in past 4,000 years; before this, it often rose by as much as several meters per century.

The Post article also fails to point out the report doesn't include data for 2008, a colder year in which sea ice increased sharply, and preliminary estimates indicate that land-based ice sheets may have as well.

Some positive notes in the report are that "no clear evidence" for global-warming induced hydrologic changes (drought or floods) are being seen in the US, and that catastrophic events such as a shutdown of sea ocean currents ("thermohaline circulatory shutdown" ) or dramatic releases of methane (the "clathrate gun" hypothesis) seem increasingly unlikely.

To be fair to the Washington Post, 48 cubic miles/year is indeed larger than some estimates from the 1990s. But those figures were arrived at before the launch of advanced systems such as NASA's GRACE satellite. It's unclear how much of the difference in estimates is due simply to today's more accurate monitoring. 

The report also indicates that current IPCC modeling doesn't accurately capture lubrication effects that may increase ice thinning and loss.  However, a model prediction is not the same thing as actual measurements and observations.

The new figures obviously don't prove whether or not CO2 is warming the planet. However, they do strongly indicate that sea level rise isn't something that we -- or even our great-grandchildren -- need to worry about.
2660  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scuds in Wisco on: December 29, 2008, 10:53:15 PM
I was living in married student housing at the University of Wisconsin when the first Scud hit Israel; the Palestinian family across the hall proceeded to whoop it up as though the Packers had just won the Super Bowl. Couldn't believe people were celebrating the fact that a weapon with a very poor targeting system, possibly topped with chemical munitions, got lobbed at a population center.

Have some Semite in me, with coloration and a nose that broadcasts it. Suddenly understood why the people across the hall were so standoffish.
2661  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Good Ol' Uncle Joe, Revised on: December 29, 2008, 08:55:12 PM
Rehabbing this jacka$$, second only to Mao in the corpse collection contest and leaving Hitler a distant third, is pretty darn scary.

The sinister resurrection of Stalin
The Soviet leader’s triumphant imperialism is the key to his rehabilitation under Putin, believes Anne Applebaum.

Who is the greatest Russian of all time? In the unlikely event that you answered “Stalin”, you would be in good company. One of the 20th century’s most horrific dictators has just come third in an opinion poll conducted by a Russian television station. Some 50 million people are said to have voted.

Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.

Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him – and not by accident.
All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.

But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB – an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so.

And, clearly, a decision has been made about Stalin. In a recently released, officially sanctioned Russian history textbook, in public celebrations and official speeches, the attitude towards him runs something like this: “Mistakes were made… errors were committed… but great things were achieved. And it was all worth it.”

This public portrayal of Stalin is highly selective. The many, many millions who died in the Gulag, in mass deportations or in mass murders are mentioned only as a kind of aside. Stalin’s purges of his closest colleagues and revolutionary comrades are given short shrift. The terror that made people afraid to speak their minds openly, that made children turn their parents in to the police, that stunted families and friendships, is absent from most contemporary accounts. Even Stalin’s programmes of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation – which modernised the country at enormous cost to the population, the environment, and Russia’s long-term economic health – are not dwelled upon.

Instead, it is Stalin’s wartime leadership that is widely celebrated, and in particular his moment of imperial triumph in 1945, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on Russia’s western neighbours. In that year, Eastern Europe became a Russian colony and, more to the point, Stalin negotiated as an equal with Roosevelt and Churchill.

Annually, Russia’s May celebrations of the anniversary of victory in 1945 grow more elaborate. Last year, they included several thousand Russian soldiers dressed in Soviet uniforms, waving the Soviet flag and singing Soviet songs. Major pieces of weaponry were paraded across Red Square, just like in the old days, to enormous applause.

Books about the war have also now become a major publishing phenomenon in a country that, up until a few years ago, hardly published any popular history at all. Most major bookstores now have a war section, often featuring books like one I picked up in Moscow a few months ago. Entitled We Defeated Berlin and Frightened New York, it is the memoir of a pilot who describes the joy of bombing raids and revels in Russia’s long-lost power to frighten others.

Even more significant is the role that the celebration of the Soviet Union’s imperial zenith now plays in a larger narrative about recent Russian history, namely the story of the 1980s and the 1990s. Famously, Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, presumably larger than either world war. He, along with the Russian media and the current Russian president who echo him, now considers the more open discussion of the Stalinist past that took place during Gorbachev’s glasnost to have been a distraction, a moment of national weakness. More to the point, they openly attribute the economic hardships of the 1990s not to decades of communist neglect and widespread theft, but to deliberate Western meddling, Western-style democracy and Western-style capitalism.

In fact, this argument now lies at the heart of the current Russian leadership’s popular legitimacy. Summed up, it goes something like this: communism was stable and safe; post-communism was a disaster. Putinism, within which Medvedev fits naturally, represents a return at last to the stability and safety of the communist period. Cheer for Stalin, cheer for Putin, cheer for Medvedev, and the media will once again be predictable, salaries will be paid on time, Russia’s neighbours will be cowed, and Russia’s leaders will, once again, negotiate on equal terms with the leaders of the West.

Besides, the more people take pride in the Stalinist past, the less likely they are to want a system that is more genuinely democratic and genuinely capitalist – a system in which the Russians might, for example, vote their president out of power, or hold a street revolution of the kind that brought down corrupt, post-Soviet governments in Georgia and Ukraine. The more nostalgia there is for Soviet-era symbols, the more secure the KGB clique is going to be.

None of which implies that the current Russian government is itself Stalinist either. As the recent election of Medvedev proved, Putin does not need that level of repression in order to stay in power. Too much violence might even threaten his legitimacy which is, as I say, based on an implied guarantee of stability and safety.
Nor was this rewriting of history ever inevitable. Despite the clichés people often spout about Russians invariably leaning towards authoritarianism or dictatorship, Russia was never condemned to celebrate this version of history.

On the contrary, a future government could, instead, rediscover the legacy of Russian liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century or even the legacy of the Russian dissidents, who in the 1960s and 1970s essentially invented what we now call the modern human rights movement. Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

Anne Applebaum is the author of 'Gulag: a History’ (Penguin)
2662  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Telephone Proportions? on: December 29, 2008, 08:05:29 PM
I guess it'd be proportional for Hamas to phone Israelis to let them know where the rockets are due to land? Note that these calls warn Hamas of impending attacks.

Israel phones in warning to flee Gaza Strip strikes
By Abraham Rabinovich in JerusalemThe AustralianDecember 30, 2008 12:01am+-PrintEmailShare
RESIDENTS at certain addresses in the Gaza Strip have been receiving unusual phone calls since the Israeli air assault began on Saturday - a request that they and their families leave their homes as soon as possible for their own safety.

More unusual than the recorded message is the Arabic-speaking caller, who identifies himself as being from the Israeli defence forces, The Australian reports.

Dipping into their bag of tricks for the updated Gaza telephone numbers, Israel's intelligence services are warning Palestinian civilians in Gaza living close to Hamas facilities that they may be hurt unless they distance themselves from those targets.

In some cases, the warning comes not by telephone but from leaflets dropped from aircraft on selected districts.

Such warnings clearly eliminate the element of surprise, but for Israel it is of cardinal importance to minimise civilian casualties, and not just for humanitarian reasons.

The principal calculation is fear that a stray bomb hitting a school or any collection of innocent civilians could bring down the wrath of the international community on Israel, as has happened more than once in the past, and force it to halt its campaign before it has achieved its objectives.

Israel Radio reported that leaflets had been dropped at the beginning of the operation in the Rafah area near the border with Egypt, warning residents that the tunnels to Egypt through which weapons and civilian products were smuggled would be bombed.

Many of the residents, mostly youths, are employed in the tunnels. Initial reports said two people were killed when the tunnels were bombed.

Gaza is one of the most densely built-up areas in the world, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint targets without collateral damage.

Israeli officials say that the small percentage of civilians killed so far is due to precise intelligence regarding the location of Hamas targets and accurate bombing and rocketing.,27574,24855309-2,00.html
2663  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scenes from an Asymmetric War on: December 29, 2008, 04:01:06 PM
Add to Doug's comments the fact that Hamas intentionally embeds its infrastructure in civilian areas so that retaliation ensures non-combatant casualties, and then they makes sure there are plenty of cameras around to document those casualties. Further, it's been pretty convincingly documented that "Paliwood" propagandists in fact fake some of the riveting footage and body counts, stage some of the scenes of carnage, change combatant clothing to civilian clothing and so on. Bottom line is that this is asymmetric warfare and Hamas is using what it has plenty of--civies in squalid conditions--to get better bang for their propaganda buck.

Think the most asinine statement ever made by a Secretary of State occurred when Warren Christopher asked, during the planning for the rescue of the American hostages being held by Iran, if the Delta Force soldiers could shoot any Irani military members in the leg rather than killing them. Expecting Israel to only hit Hamas but not the civies they embed themselves among involves a similarly flawed understanding of force projection.
2664  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Moonlighting on: December 27, 2008, 10:41:58 AM
"What are you doing here?": man asks wife at brothel
Wed Jan 9, 2008 10:23am EST  Email | Print | Share | Reprints | Single Page [-] Text
WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish man got the shock of his life when he visited a brothel and spotted his wife among the establishment's employees.

Polish tabloid Super Express said the woman had been making some extra money on the side while telling her husband she worked at a store in a nearby town.

"I was dumfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the husband told the newspaper on Wednesday.

The couple, married for 14 years, are now divorcing, the newspaper reported.
2665  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Nuclear Blast Calculator on: December 26, 2008, 02:17:07 PM
Select an area and a nuclear devices, and then calculate the blast radius:
2666  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / World Orgasm Day Cancelled on: December 24, 2008, 09:24:14 PM
Tel Aviv, Israel: UFO cult's 'World Orgasm Day' orgy cancelled due to threats   

Israel: UFO cult's 'World Orgasm Day' orgy cancelled due to threats.

The Israeli branch of the UFO centred movement known as the Raelians was planning something special to commemorate ‘World Orgasm Day’, a huge orgy in downtown Tel Aviv, the largest city in Israel. The event was going to attract at least 250 participants of all sexual orientations: Straight, bisexual, gay and lesbian and was meant to make a powerful and highly relevant statement in this most troubled part of the world: that it is far better to make love rather than war.  Sadly however the organisers have been forced to cancel this year’s event due to numerous violent threats made towards both the movement and the venue. The threats are believed to come from ultra-orthodox Jews who feel such celebrations violate the sanctity of the Holy Land and go against the morality of Judaism.
‘The purpose of the event was to try and bring world peace through mass orgasm, this by experiencing consensual sex and natural, uninterrupted pleasure. It was important to make love without feeling guilty or shy' commented Kobi Drori, the head of the Raelians in Israel.
Drori also complained about the fact that nowadays the words war violence and murder are considered OK but not the words love and sex. ‘It should be the other way around. Several years ago an Iraqi boy whose limbs were amputated was shown on TV and everybody treated this as if it was okay, but when Janet Jackson exposed her breast during the Superbowl the American nation was appalled’ continued Drori.

A very attractive 22 year old woman who identified herself as 'Yael' was dissapointed that the orgy was called off. 'Raelian belief makes sense, and I was looking forward to participate in this event in an uninhibited way, this is what we were created for, and the fanatics will not hold us back forever.'
The Raelians are known for their liberal attitudes towards sexuality. They believe that mankind was created by aliens who arrived here thousands of years ago in UFOs. Despite their opposition to Biblical attitudes towards sex they see the Bible as a book that bears witness to ancient alien visitors, and place particular emphasis on the Book of Ezekiel, which they see as an ancient account of a UFO visitation.
2667  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / on: December 24, 2008, 04:29:32 PM
Predicting pandemics: tracks emerging hot spots in real time
December 24th, 2008 in Medicine & Health / Diseases


Disease outbreaks appear on the HealthMap as yellow push-pins. When the user clicks on a particular push-pin, a window opens with links to information about a disease outbreak report.
( -- At the end of July 2008, major news agencies reported an outbreak of jalapeño-related salmonella that sickened more than 1,000 people in Mexico and the United States. It was the biggest outbreak of its kind in decades.
Two months earlier, had flagged the uptick in gastrointestinal illness, which signaled the emergence of a novel strain of salmonella. HealthMap had culled the information from a story that appeared in a local newspaper in New Mexico. HealthMap’s warning was a little yellow balloon that popped onto the site’s map, linking it to the news story. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had yet to make an announcement. was launched in 2006 by epidemiologist John Brownstein, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of pediatrics based in the Informatics Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, and software developer Clark Freifeld of the Informatics Program. Today it combs 24,000 Web sites per hour, tracking and mapping 75 infectious diseases, including malaria, cholera, plague, Ebola, avian flu, and the ominous-sounding “not yet classified.” Receiving about 30,000 hits a month, HealthMap’s most frequent visitors are the World Health Organization and the CDC, who check the site daily.
A visit to the site reveals red and yellow warnings popping up across the continents. “If you look at the map, you see that no place is protected from diseases,” said Brownstein. “Infectious disease is a major problem in the developing world, but the emergence of diseases is a huge public health threat everywhere, especially with the impact of being able to travel to any point in the world in a day. Diseases don’t respect borders.”
Brownstein and Freifeld started HealthMap as an unfunded side project. Frustrated by privacy issues regarding the use of clinical data, Brownstein approached Freifeld to see how they could tap into publicly accessible information to paint a real-time picture of outbreaks of contagious disease.
“We were thinking about all the information that exists on the Web in an unorganized sense,” said Brownstein. “Information is distributed across different types of data sources and different types of Web sites, and we thought, what if we tried to organize that information and make it freely available on a simple interface like a map?”
Freifeld built a Web-crawler that seeks key words about diseases, symptoms, and locations from local newspapers, news feeds, and blogs. One of the biggest tasks was creating a dictionary of diseases, names, and locations.
“The dictionaries needed constant refining,” said Freifeld. “For example, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever is a tick-borne disease. Initially, when the program picked up any references to the disease, it put the alert in the Congo. To avoid this problem, we created a string of words to label the disease, so the program would not confuse the disease with the location.”
The site merges this data with clinical reports created by content partner ProMED-mail. ProMED members all over the world generate and upload public health information. By blending clinical data from the frontlines with automatically generated information, the site achieves Brownstein’s goals of timeliness and accuracy. The map interface displays emerging patterns geographically, giving visitors greater insight into where epidemics are most likely to spread.
With so much information being processed so rapidly, there are bound to be a few quirks. “A horse named Antarctica had equine herpes,” said Brownstein, “which led the program to detect an outbreak of herpes in Antarctica, which of course was wrong.”
Soon after the site launched, it generated attention when an article titled “Get Your Daily Plague Forecast” appeared in Wired Magazine (Oct. 19, 2006). Brownstein and Freifeld landed a grant from and obtained funding from the CDC to expand the site. They added new diseases and more news sources and increased the number of searched languages, a feature that was necessary to create a global tool. Today, the program searches for information in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. Portuguese and Arabic will be added in the next few months, followed by Khmer, Malay, and Thai.
The CDC is one of the site’s biggest users. The agency incorporates information from HealthMap into the daily reports they distribute to public health leaders all over the world. Jean O’Connor, policy officer for the Office of Critical Information Integration and Exchange at the CDC, is enthusiastic about HealthMap’s potential to aid public health officials in prevention efforts. “HealthMap was really the first Web site to take informal public health information and anecdotal reports and make it possible for a public health leader to look at all of those pieces of information globally,” said O’Connor. O’Connor also noted that the site’s display of disease outbreaks among domesticated animals and wildlife can help pinpoint potential threats, since many diseases spread from animals to people.
The New England Journal of Medicine started using the site recently. "We just added HealthMap to the tools we use for gathering health-related news from around the world," said Stephen Morrissey, managing editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. "The geographic interface is extremely useful, and we look forward to seeing whether this approach will alert us earlier to important events that should be brought to the attention of physicians and health policy experts."
Brownstein and Freifeld are off to Geneva this month to consult with the World Health Organization on another project, and hope to gain insight into how that organization is using HealthMap while they’re there.
Brownstein’s passion for public health was ignited during a semester spent in Africa as an undergraduate in 1998. “I went to Kenya and Uganda, where I spent a lot of time in the field studying wildlife,” said Brownstein. “I began to realize the incredible impact infectious diseases have on human populations, things like malaria and HIV, the linkage between infectious diseases and the environment, and how human encroachment into wildlife areas led to the emergence of infectious diseases. Almost every infectious disease you can look at, at one point came out of an animal population.”
Today, with a second Google grant, Brownstein envisions the site moving beyond its role as an information provider to becoming an engaged, online community. “Everyone is talking about social networks like Facebook. HealthMap will be a social network of disease experts engaged in the global public health good,” said Brownstein. “The real vision is that we are going to be much more integrated with our user base. We will be relying on people reporting, commenting, and verifying outbreaks that are happening. They will really be interacting with the data, collaborating with the data, and making use of it.”
On the Web:
Provided by Harvard University
2668  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Airport Indulgences on: December 24, 2008, 09:56:17 AM
S.F. fliers may pay their way in carbon usage
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
(12-23) 20:33 PST --

Environmentally conscious travelers flying out of San Francisco International Airport will soon be able to assuage their guilt and minimize the impact of their air travel by buying certified carbon offsets at airport kiosks.

The experimental program, scheduled to start this spring, would make SFO the first airport in the nation - possibly the world - to offer fliers the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.

"We'd like people to stop and consider the impacts of flying," said Steve McDougal, executive vice president for 3Degrees, a San Francisco firm that sells renewable-energy and carbon-reduction investments and is teaming up with the airport and the city on the project. "Obviously, people need to fly sometimes. No one expects them to stop, but they should consider taking steps to reduce their impacts."

San Francisco's Airport Commission has authorized the program, which will involve a $163,000 investment from SFO, but is still working out the details with 3Degrees. Because of that, McDougal said, he can't yet discuss specifics, such as the cost to purchase carbon offsets and what programs would benefit from travelers' purchases.

But the general idea, officials said, is that a traveler would approach a kiosk resembling the self-service check-in stations used by airlines, then punch in his or her destination. The computer would calculate the carbon footprint and the cost of an investment to offset the damage. The traveler could then swipe a credit card to help save the planet. Travelers would receive a printed receipt listing the projects benefiting from their environmental largesse.

The carbon offsets are not tax deductible, said Krista Canellakis, a 3Degrees spokeswoman.

"While the carbon offsets purchased at kiosks can't be seen or touched, they are an actual product with a specific environmental claim whose ownership is transferred at the time of purchase," she said.

Mike McCarron, airport spokesman, said the projects offered will be chosen by the mayor's office, in conjunction with 3Degrees, from a list certified by the city's Environment Department. Airport Director John Martin told the commission that projects could include renewable energy ventures in developing countries, agriculture and organic waste capture, coal mine methane capture, and sustainable forestry.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said a portion of each offset purchase would go to the San Francisco Carbon Fund, which supports local projects such as energy-efficiency programs and solar panel installations for low-income housing, as well as efforts to convert waste oils into biodiesel fuels.

The cost of offsets for SFO travelers is still being negotiated, McDougal said, but figures on the company's Web-based "carbon calculator" suggest that a two-hour trip uses about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person, and the cost to offset that would be about $4. Offsetting a trip to Europe would cost $36.

"It's definitely not going to double your ticket or anything," he said. "It's going to end up being a small percentage of your total airfare."

Under the agreement, the airport will provide the kiosks and 3Degrees will supply the software and the certified carbon offsets being sold and will operate the program. Kiosks will be placed throughout the airport, with locations at the customer service desk in Terminal 3 and two wings of the International Terminal. 3Degrees will get 30 percent of each purchase, with the rest going to carbon-reduction projects. The agreement calls for a one-year program, with a possible extension.

"The carbon kiosks will not only reduce global warming," Ballard said, "they will serve an educational function. It's something interesting to do while you're killing time at the airport."

Given the innovative nature of the venture, airport officials said they don't expect 3Degrees will turn a profit - at least not at the outset. McDougal said it's impossible to predict how many passengers will want to make what is essentially a voluntary contribution to compensate for the impacts of their air travel. But he hopes the program takes off.

"Hopefully, it will be successful," he said. "But if we just have a lot of people stop and read the information and think about it, that's something we've accomplished."

E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at
2669  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hole in Justice Stevens' Heller Dissent on: December 23, 2008, 04:19:18 PM
St. George Tucker, Saul Cornell, and Justice Stevens: The Lecture Notes of St. George Tucker: A Framing Era View of the Bill of Rights has just been published by the Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy. The article, by David Hardy, will also appear in the printed edition of the N.W.U.L. Rev.

St. George Tucker is perhaps the preeminent source of the original public meaning of the Constitution. His 5-volume American edition of Blackstone's Commentaries was the by far the leading legal treatise in the Early Republic. Tucker included extensive analysis, in footnotes and in an appendix, explaining how the English common law of Blackstone had been changed in America. Tucker's analysis of the Second Amendment plainly described it as an individual right, encompassing the keeping and bear of arms for personal self-defense, for hunting, and for militia service. Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Heller quoted from Tucker's American Blackstone.

Justice Stevens' dissent in Heller cited a 2006 article by historian Saul Cornell. That article stated that Tucker's 1791-92 lecture notes described the Second Amendment as relating only to the militia.

David Hardy's article reviews Tucker's lecture notes, as they involve various freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Hardy finds that Tucker's view of the Constitution was far more libertarian (regarding issues such as free speech and press, or warrantless searches) than either modern Supreme Court doctrine, or the views sometimes ascribed to the Founders.

As for the Second Amendment, Hardy finds that Cornell's article, and therefore Justice Stevens' opinion, contains a major factual error: the militia language which Cornell quoted was not from Tucker's description of the Second Amendment. The language was from Tucker's explanation of Article I's grant of militia powers to Congress. Tucker's description of the Second Amendment comes 20 pages later in the 1791-92 lecture notes, and is nearly a verbatim match with the text Tucker's 1803 book, unambiguously describing the Second Amendment as encompassing a personal right for a variety of purposes, not just for militia service.

The Cornell article is St. George Tucker and the Second Amendment: Original Understandings and Modern Misunderstandings, 47 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1123 (2006). Perhaps the error in article, and the derivative error in a Supreme Court opinion, could have been averted with bettter cite-checking.

Readers interested in Tucker may also be interested in my article The Second Amendment in the Nineteenth Century (BYU L. Rev.)(also discussing the scholarship of Tucker's son Henry St. George Tucker, and his grandson John Randolph Tucker), and in Stephen Halbrook's response to Cornell, St. George Tucker’s Second Amendment: Deconstructing "The True Palladium of Liberty" (Tenn. J.L. & Pol’y).
2670  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Renting" the Trough on: December 23, 2008, 02:06:22 PM
This could be filed a lot of places, but with a trillion dollar trough planned, there will be a lot of swine emerging.

Corruption's cost, beyond Blagojevich

'Rent-seeking' hurts society and perverts the work of government.

By Donald J. Boudreaux

from the December 23, 2008 edition

Fairfax, Va. - Gordon Tullock is not a household name. It's a shame that he's not. In contrast, disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a household name. It's a shame that he is.
These two men have little in common except that Mr. Tullock, an eminent economist, is the first scholar who systematically grasped and explained why the actions of politicians such as Mr. Blagojevich are so harmful to the rest of us.

It takes no genius to understand why Blagojevich sought to enrich his purse and enlarge his power by allegedly trying to sell a US Senate seat. Four-year-old children understand self-interest and aren't shocked by it. And all sensible adults understand that politicians are no less self-interested than are bankers or beauty queens. As H.L. Mencken observed long ago about homo politicus: " is to his interest to augment his powers at all hazards, and to make his compensation all the traffic will bear."

Understanding just how actions such as Blagojevich's create widespread harm, however, is more involved than it appears.

Obviously, a governor who uses his appointment powers to feather his own nest is a scoundrel. And such ill-begotten appointees are likely to be inferior, so the public suffers.
But this is only the tip of the antisocial iceberg. As Tullock first recognized (in a paper published in 1967), enormous amounts of resources – including human talent – are wasted in the pursuit of government privileges.

The income derived from possessing a special privilege is called "rent" (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the monthly payments that tenants make to landlords). Rents themselves are just a transfer of value from some people to others. So, for example, when each American pays an extra $10 annually for sugar because of the special protections that Uncle Sam gives to American sugar farmers, that $10 winds up in the hands of sugar farmers. Each of us who doesn't grow sugar is worse off by $10, while those who do grow it are better off by the sum total.

Sugar consumers' losses are balanced by sugar farmers' gains. On net, then, it appears that society comes out even.

But that's not the case. Tullock's insight is that the very ability of government to create lucrative special privileges diverts resources from socially productive pursuits into wasteful ones.
Knowing that government is willing and able to impose tariffs that will protect them from foreign competition – and knowing that such protection will raise their incomes – sugar farmers understandably spend some of their resources farming government rather than farming their land.

Such lobbying can reap advantages worth millions. So it's understandable that companies spend considerable effort courting politicians who can bestow such privileges. That's wasteful. Time, energy, and other materials that could be used to expand the output or improve the quality of goods and services are instead used to lobby government for narrow benefits that may harm society at large. And the larger the potential gain from being granted such a privilege – that is, the larger the rents – the more intense will be rent-seekers' incentives to chase after them. That puts tremendous pressure on – and gives tremendous leverage to – politicians.

It's easy to look at the Blagojevich case and see a failure of personal ethics. It is about character. But it's also about how government itself creates the very conditions for corruption. Think of all the special privileges governors can bestow: subsidies for stadiums, public-works contracts, special taxes and fees, not to mention myriad regulations with myriad loopholes. Chief executives – mayors, governors, and presidents – are supposed to be the chief enforcers of the law. Today, though, they are also chief bestowers of privileges. As such, the trading of favors is intense, leaving little bandwidth for actual public service. Society loses.

He didn't use the phrase "rent seeking," but Blagojevich captured the toll it takes in an interview he gave in 2005: "There's a loneliness and a certain sadness [to this job] because you have to isolate yourself to some extent. There are so many people who want so many different things from you." He was more right than he knew. Blagojevich's shenanigans – though probably illegal in ways that grants of other special privileges aren't – are nevertheless appropriately seen as a product of the rent-seeking culture that today's increasingly unconstrained government engenders.

During the campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain pledged to limit the influence of lobbyists and special interests. But you can't stop politics as usual when government grows. And as Washington embarks on a trillion-dollar-plus shopping spree, the conditions that cultivate rent-seeking – and thus corruption – are sure to grow, too.
The antidotes for this poison are integrity and constitutionally limited government. The need for them has never been greater.

• Donald J. Boudreaux, a professor of economics at George Mason University, is the author of "Globalization."
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2671  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: December 23, 2008, 01:17:52 PM
Second post. I'm such a believer in AGW, that I bought a truck with plow this year.

Whatever Happened to Global Warming?
Because we could sure use some of it right about now.

By Deroy Murdock

Winter officially arrived with Sunday’s solstice. But for many Americans, frigid January-like conditions have prevailed for weeks.

Christmas and Hanukkah travelers are delayed if not stranded at airports on the northwest and northeast coasts. Snow clogs runways, and ice coats airplane wing flaps as Americans wait extra hours and days to reach their loved ones.

New Englanders still lack electricity after a December 11 ice storm snapped power lines. Some 3,900 Granite State customers remain in the dark after what PSNH, the local utility, called “the most devastating natural disaster to hit New Hampshire in recent history.” Over the weekend, snow similarly knocked out the lights in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri.

Meanwhile, up to eight inches of snow struck New Orleans and southern Louisiana on December 11 and didn’t melt for 48 hours in some neighborhoods.

“I’ve lived in south Louisiana my entire life and had never seen the amount of snow we saw in many parts of the parish that day,” Tammany Parish resident Andrew Canulette wrote in December 17’s New Orleans Times-Picayune. “That sort of thing just doesn’t happen around here.”

In southern California last Wednesday, half an inch of snow brightened Malibu’s hills while a half-foot barricaded highways and marooned commuters in desert towns east of Los Angeles. Snow barred soldiers at Barstow’s Fort Irwin from deploying to Iraq. In Las Vegas, 3.6 inches of the white stuff — the most seen in 19 years — shuttered McCarren Airport Wednesday and dusted the Strip’s hotels and casinos.

What are the odds of that?

Actually, the odds are rising that snow, ice, and cold will grow increasingly common. As serious scientists repeatedly explain, global cooling is here. It is chilling temperatures — if not the climate alarmists’ fevered expectations of so-called global warming.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, 2008 will be America’s coldest year since 1997, thanks to La Niña and precipitation in the central and eastern states. Solar quietude also may underlie global cooling. This year’s sunspots and solar radiation approach the minimum in the Sun’s cycle, corresponding with lower Earth temperatures. This echoes Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Dr. Sallie Baliunas’ belief that solar variability, much more than CO2, sways global temperatures.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service reports that last summer was Anchorage’s third coldest on record. “Not since 1980 has there been a summer less reflective of global warming,” Craig Medred wrote in the Anchorage Daily News. Consequently, Alaska’s glaciers are thickening in the middle. “It’s been a long time on most glaciers where they’ve actually had positive mass balance,” U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molnia told Medred October 13. Similarly, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has found that the extent of Arctic sea ice has expanded by 13.2 percent over last year. This 270,000 square-mile growth in Arctic sea ice is just slightly larger than Texas’s 268,820 square miles.

Across the equator, Brazil endured an especially cold September. Snow graced its southern provinces that month.

Marc Morano, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Republican Communications Director, collects global-cooling incidents as others pin exotic moths to cork boards. Here are just a few of his latest specimens:

Just before Halloween, southwestern Florida’s temperatures plunged to 47 degrees, October’s coldest readings since 1902. October 29 saw 120 new record-cold measurements and 63 new record-snow figures across America.

The next day brought record cold to Havana, Cuba, where the mercury reached 48 degrees.

The most snow ever to hit Tibet killed seven people October 30, stranded 1,300 others in damaged buildings, and took the lives of 144,000 head of livestock.

Record snowfalls hit Switzerland the same day. Snow blocked rail lines between Interlaken and Spiez, forcing travelers onto buses. Snow-damaged fences in the Bernese Oberland helped cows slip away without adult supervision.

Mother Nature lampooned a speech on so-called “global warming” by its highest priest, former vice president Albert Gore Jr. Bracing temperatures greeted his October 22 remarks at Harvard University. “Starting at 3 p.m., we will be serving hot cider and soup to keep everyone warm,” read a letter to the Harvard Community from the school’s Sustainability Celebration Committee. “Please dress for our changeable New England weather.”

“Global Warming is over, and Global Warming Theory has failed. There is no evidence that CO2 drives world temperatures or any consequent climate change,” Imperial College London astrophysicist and long-range forecaster Piers Corbyn wrote British Members of Parliament on October 28. “According to official data in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been colder than that year, yet CO2 has been rising rapidly.” That evening, as the House of Commons debated legislation on so-called “global-warming,” October snow fell in London for the first time since 1922.

These observations parallel those of five German researchers led by Professor Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences. “Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade,” they concluded in last May’s Nature, “as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic [man-made] warming.” This “lull” should doom the 0.54 degree Fahrenheit average global temperature rise predicted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Vatican of so-called “global warming.” Incidentally, the IPCC’s computer models factor in neither El Niño nor the Gulf Stream. Excluding such major climate variables would be like ESPN ignoring baseball and basketball.

America’s biased, pro-“warming” media holistically overlooked this paper in one of Earth’s most serious and respected scientific journals. Had these researchers forecast the years of higher temperatures, you would have heard about it, ad infinitum.

So, is this all just propaganda concocted by Chevron-funded, right-wing, flat-Earthers? Ask Dr. Martin Hertzberg, a physical chemist and retired Navy meteorologist.

“As a scientist and life-long liberal Democrat, I find the constant regurgitation of the anecdotal, fear mongering clap-trap about human-caused global warming to be a disservice to science,” Hertzberg wrote in September 26’s USA Today. “From the El Niño year of 1998 until Jan., 2007, the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere near its surface decreased some 0.25 C [0.45 F]. From Jan., 2007 until the spring of 2008, it dropped a whopping 0.75 C [1.35 F].”

As global cooling becomes more widely recognized, Americans from Maine to Malibu should feel confident in dreaming of a white Christmas.

— Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.

National Review Online -
2672  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bailout as a Comparative slice of GDP on: December 23, 2008, 11:38:01 AM
The GDP Adjustment

Matt Welch | December 23, 2008, 11:40am

A week-plus ago I posted some data compiled by Bianco Research analyst James Bianco indicating that our $8.4 trillion-and-counting bailout dwarfs just about every huge government project you can think of, combined. Reader domoarrigato argued that re-casting those numbers as a percentage of their contemporaneous GDP might be more illuminating, and then he went ahead and did the math himself. After sending the informatics to our top experts, we are now prepared to publish them in a hopefully easy-on-the-eyes chart. Here goes:

Speaking of bailout graphics, try this more colorful one from Pro Publica–a bubble-chart of post-1970 bailouts, adjusted for 2008 dollars (though not as a percentage of GDP!).

A tangential topic for discussion: What do you all think of the argument that percent-of-GDP is the real way one should ponder stuff like the size of various government programs, or defense spending, or the whole state apparatus itself? I've always thought it extremely helpful for personal context (thanks again, domoarrigato!), and extremely dangerous for the purposes of deciding how to spend.

Here's why: The biggest chunk of GDP, and certainly the most dynamic, is the stuff produced by the private sector. Pegging a public-sector program to a private-sector number basically rewards inefficient non-innovators with the innovators' gains. Put another way, if it cost 4 shekels a year to adequately defend a country with a 100-shekel economy (let's say that 77 of those 100 shekels were produced by the private sector), why on earth should we increase the defense budget to 8 shekels when (as inevitably happens) the profit-seeking privates double their money? I understand that labor and materials can become more expensive in a growing economy, thus adding costs to guvmint operations, but essentially this is about making the booming size of government look rational, just because the private sector is (or was) booming as well. Where am I wrong here?
2673  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Michigan's Declining Population on: December 23, 2008, 10:10:15 AM
Couldn't come up with a better place to file this. Think the map is interesting; with all the hue and cry over global warming, many are still hoofing it out of the north to the sunbelt. Voting against scare tactics with their feet?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More are saying so long to Michigan

State in danger of losing a congressional district after '10 count as population dips 46,000.

Mike Wilkinson / The Detroit News

Michigan's population loss accelerated this year, driven by an auto industry on the verge of collapse that has sent tens of thousands looking for a soft landing elsewhere in the country.
The state lost an estimated 46,000 people between 2007 and 2008, and experts expect the state's population to fall below 10 million by next year.

Michigan's stagnant growth portends the loss of clout: With other parts of the country continuing to see robust growth, the state will likely lose one of its 15 Congressional districts after the 2010 census. If it does, it will mark the fourth consecutive decade that the state has lost a seat.
The state's decline is rooted in mobility: The rising number of people who are leaving the state far exceeds the number coming into it. The state had a net loss of 109,257 people to domestic migration, up from 95,787 a year earlier and 57,257 in 2005. Immigration from abroad, once able to balance the domestic losses, continued to decline as well, with just 16,627 coming to Michigan, down from its recent high of 23,328 in 2001.

"It's that out-migration. It keeps going -- more and more and more," said Kurt Metzger, director of the Detroit Area Community Indicators System, a local nonprofit. "There's nothing else."
Births rose and deaths declined for the third consecutive year, pushing the state's "natural increase" up. But it was the loss from movers, many of whom left for economic reasons, which drove the state's population downward.

"When opportunities present themselves, people will move," said Rick Waclawek, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Growth's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

Waclawek is hopeful that the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan -- estimated to pump from $650 billion to $850 billion into the economy -- will stem the tide of losses. Projects that may be undertaken with federal money could attract some of the same people who have left, he said.

The stimulus money is expected to go toward a range of initiatives, from tax relief and money for state governments to infrastructure projects.
"It's a dynamic society we're living in," he said.

Michael Duffield has been in real estate for 15 years and he's seeing some strange things in the market: People swapping houses, people walking away from their homes. Many are choosing the devastation of foreclosure and a move to another state for a job over sticking it out in Michigan.

"They're saying, 'Life marches on. I won't be a homeowner, I'll be a home renter,' " Duffield said.

Whether the movement out of the state will increase is unknown. With much of the rest of the country now experiencing the recession Michigan has dealt with for the better part of eight years, opportunities elsewhere have shrunk.

"They can't go many other places anymore," said Xuan Liu, manager of the data center for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Overall, Michigan lost nearly 0.5 percent of its population in the last year; Rhode Island lost 0.2 percent. All other states showed an increase, with Utah, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado showing the biggest percentage increases. Texas added 483,542 residents, the largest increase in people.

Regionally, the Northeast had the slowest overall increase, at 0.3 percent and 163,000 people, followed by the Midwest at 0.4 percent, or 249,000 people. The South added nearly 1.4 million people, or 1.3 percent, while the West added 974,000, or 1.4 percent.

The population changes represent a steady shift over nearly a half-century. In 1960, the Midwest and Northeast comprised more than half the nation's population, with the West and South just under half. Now, the West and South make up 60 percent of the population; the Midwest and Northeast just 40 percent.

Likewise, the loss of political clout has been steady: Michigan had as many as 19 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives as late as 1982. But it lost one seat in advance of that's year's election; two in the 1990s, and one following the 2000 census. Meanwhile, the South and West have gained dozens and could add another eight after the 2010 count.

The Census Bureau uses birth and death records, as well as income tax returns to gauge population trends. The estimates, however, do not affect a state's federal funding, which is based instead on the decennial census counts.

With the auto industry, like most of the economy, mired in doubt, it's unclear when Michigan will pull out of its current downspin, the worst since the state saw a larger decline in population from 1981 to 1983. Economists are saying it will be late 2009 if not 2010 before the state sees a recovery.

You can reach Mike Wilkinson at (313) 222-2563 or
2674  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eco Storm Troopers Sought? on: December 23, 2008, 08:48:37 AM
Seeing how many on the left have had a hard time finding a despot they didn't like, many of the bon mots in this piece inspire a shudder. Think the fact that many are already working on the legal justifications for eco-intrusions is particularly spooky.

Martial law of the jungle
When defending the environment means calling in the military

By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow  |  December 21, 2008

SCRATCH AN ENVIRONMENTALIST and you are likely to find a skeptic of military force. At protest marches and on car bumpers, slogans like "Good Planets Are Hard to Find" mingle with peace signs. This overlap makes sense: Both positions operate under a larger ethos of avoiding harm - and war, after all, often wreaks ecological devastation.

But some green thinkers are now coming to a surprising conclusion: In exceptional circumstances, they say, the only effective way to protect the environment may be at the barrel of a gun. In some cases, notably in Africa, biodiversity is threatened by military conflict, or by well-armed gangs of poachers. These situations, some say, call for a response in kind - deploying the military to guard natural reserves, or providing rangers with military-style arms and training.

A few analysts go further, arguing that in certain cases of severe ecological harm, the international community may be justified in mustering troops to intervene, with or without the permission of the host country. For example, a government might refuse to protect - or even willfully destroy - its own natural treasure, as when, in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein's regime drained the wetlands that were home to the persecuted Marsh Arabs. Or, as resources grow scarcer, one nation's overexploitation of a forest or river could lead to dire consequences for other countries. In response to both kinds of scenarios, some have begun to raise the possibility of an "eco-intervention," analogous to humanitarian interventions.

Already, some conservation campaigns have taken on martial aspects. Over the past couple of decades, at least two paramilitary groups in the Central African Republic have operated with government approval, as reported recently in an article on "armed environmentalism" in The Ecologist, a British magazine. In some parts of Africa, rangers receive military training and equipment to defend animals (and themselves) from poachers in pursuit of elephants, rhinos, gorillas, and other endangered species. In Nicaragua, the army patrols beaches to protect sea turtle eggs.

But now there is increasing talk of more far-reaching action. Last year, Australian professor Robyn Eckersley published a much-discussed article in the journal Ethics and International Affairs, offering a framework for staging eco-interventions. In May, Brazil's new environment minister proposed sending troops to guard the Amazon. And experts agree that climate change will prove a major security issue of this century.

"If you consider how people fight over oil and other resources, I don't see any more noble cause than to fight over the preservation of the planet," says Alex Cornelissen, director of Sea Shepherd's Operation Galapagos, which works with the Ecuadorian government to catch poachers.

Bringing in armed force would take the idea of environmental defense to a new level. But in the view of some analysts, the enterprise would be doomed by moral and practical problems. The notion of eco-intervention could provide an additional pretext for waging wars - did we really need another reason to invade Iraq? The idea also suffers from imperialist overtones, adding another layer to fraught questions of sovereignty. In the small-scale scenarios, more basic ethical dilemmas emerge. Some poachers are poverty-stricken locals, just trying to survive, and using force against them seems cruel. The effort and funding, some say, should go instead to giving these poachers economic alternatives.

"It's a very hot potato," says Karl Ammann, a wildlife photographer based in Kenya, who was named one of Time magazine's "heroes of the environment" in 2007. "The moment it involves arms, the accusation is that you're putting the animals ahead of people."

Endangered species in many parts of the world are under constant assault, whether from subsistence poachers, who hunt to meet basic needs, or their commercial counterparts, who take part in the multibillion dollar illegal trade in wildlife. In the last hundred years the number of tigers in the world has fallen by 95 percent; in China, tiger bone is used in traditional medicine, while tiger penises are considered an aphrodisiac. Every year, up to 12,000 African elephants are killed for ivory. For many species, poaching is one of the main threats to survival.

In Africa, staggering numbers of the continent's charismatic fauna - elephants, rhinos, gorillas, and others - have been slaughtered for horns, tusks, and bushmeat. In 1989, Richard Leakey, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, armed park rangers and antipoaching units, which were given the authority to shoot poachers on sight. His campaign is credited with reviving the elephant population. In 2002, an American NGO called African Rainforest and Rivers Conservation supplied arms to a group of locals in the Central African Republic, with government permission.

In South Africa, a college for rangers, established about 20 years ago, offers military-style training to park rangers from around the continent. In recent years the urgency has grown. Many contemporary poachers form heavily armed, well-organized gangs, often from neighboring countries. "In Africa there's really a big need for those rangers to be able to defend themselves," says Deanne Adams, vice president of the International Ranger Federation, an organization with affiliates from ranger associations around the world.

According to estimates, about 1,000 rangers worldwide have been killed in the line of duty in the past 10 years, 130 of them in just one national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. About 700 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, 200 of which are believed to be in the Congo. As of June, the last four Northern white rhinos in the wild were feared dead at the hands of poachers. "There's not a lot of time left for some of these species," says Michael Zwirn, director of US operations for Wildlife Alliance.

Other natural resources benefit the world at large more directly. Major rain forests, such as the Congo Basin forest and the Amazon, often called the "lungs of the earth," absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, providing a crucial check on global warming. In Brazil, illegal ranching is one of the leading causes of deforestation. After taking office last May, Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, sent the military to seize cattle on illegally deforested land, and he has suggested that army regiments patrol the Amazon's nature reserves.

The role of national militaries in protecting the environment appears to be growing. A far more controversial proposal, though, is action by outside forces. The concept of a "green-helmet brigade" from the UN has floated around environmental policy circles for some years, inspiring a handful of academic papers.

Most recently, the idea surfaced in the article by Robyn Eckersley, a professor at the University of Melbourne and author of "The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty." In this paper, Eckersley explores possible scenarios in which armed intervention might be called for on ecological grounds. The first is an imminent environmental disaster, such as Chernobyl, in which spillover effects to neighboring countries were foreseen. This, Eckersley said, would be consistent with existing international law, because the goals would include protecting citizens from the repercussions.

The second possibility is what she dubs "eco-humanitarianism" - cases where gross human rights abuses accompany environmental crimes. For example, Saddam Hussein persecuted Iraq's Marsh Arabs in various ways, including the deliberate destruction of the wetlands that sustained their way of life. In similar situations, Eckersley argues, the human rights violations might justify intervention anyway, while the ecological component could bolster the case.

Lastly, and most provocatively, she suggests that environmental damage alone, even in the absence of transboundary spillover effects, could constitute grounds for intervention. For example, she says, if the government of Rwanda were unable or unwilling to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas, an international force might send troops to do so.

"I think it's a little far off," says Eckersley, but "there's good reason to have principled discussions about this now."

Linda Malone, a law professor at William and Mary, has also written about this idea. She frames it in terms of the "responsibility to protect," a nascent concept in international relations, first developed in 2001 by a Canadian governmental commission. The doctrine emphasizes not the rights of states - i.e. sovereignty - but the responsibilities of states to their populations. The corollary is that if a state fails to meet its obligations, the international community has both the right and the responsibility to intervene. As of now, the doctrine refers only to human rights, but eventually, Malone says, it could apply to the environment as well.

"The responsibility to protect at some point in the future has got to extend to species and biodiversity," Malone says. "It seems to me a natural progression, from protection of states to protection of human security to environmental security in a broader sense."

Eckersley and Malone stress that armed intervention must always be approached with extreme caution, as a last resort. Still, the possibility elicits skepticism from many of their colleagues. Followed to its logical conclusion, the critics say, the reasoning threatens to mire us in violent, confusing conflicts around the world.

"How many pretexts do you really want to offer a government for armed intervention?" asks Mathew Humphrey, a professor at the University of Nottingham who participated in an online symposium discussing Eckersley's paper. There is also the stark political problem: Given the public's intervention fatigue, sending in the troops to save the gorillas seems more than a little far-fetched. "Are they really going to think they can sell that to the people back home?" Humphrey asks.

At its heart, eco-intervention poses an even more radical question: What is the relative value of human and nonhuman life? Eckersley explicitly challenges "human chauvinism," as many environmentalists embrace "biocentrism" and shun anthropocentrism. But who is prepared to tell a family that their son or daughter died to save a mountain gorilla, or a stand of old-growth forest?

Another kind of eco-intervention, however, is more plausible. As the planet's environmental stress mounts, conflicts over dwindling resources, or escalating damage, could easily threaten to spiral into a broader war, says Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the UN's Environment Program. The member states of the UN, Nuttall says, might then decide to intervene in order to halt the environmental degradation.

"In 20, 30, 40 years time, when we're living on a planet with 9 billion people, and if you lay climate change over the top," he says, "this becomes an issue of avoiding conflicts and the collapse of states."

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow is a contributing writer for Ideas. She can be reached at
2675  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another Felt Piece on: December 23, 2008, 08:38:11 AM
Make many of the points of Crafty's piece above.

Patrick Cockburn: The reality behind Deep Throat
The Mark Felts of this world want to use the media as a weapon against their enemies
Saturday, 20 December 2008

Mark Felt, the senior official at the FBI who was the highly placed informant or Deep Throat who famously leaked information during the Watergate scandal, died this week. His nickname, drawn from a pornographic movie of the day, has since become a generic term for well-informed anonymous source.

It was Mr Felt, with access to all FBI files, who met Bob Woodward of The Washington Post in an underground parking garage in Rosslyn, Virginia. He famously steered him and Carl Bernstein towards exposing the Watergate burglary of the Democratic Party's national offices in Washington as only one part of a general campaign of sabotage and political spying directed by the White House. Mr Felt's role was long suspected but confirmed by him only in 2005.

His motives for directing Woodward and Bernstein towards the links between the White House and the Watergate burglars were two fold. After 30 years at the FBI, Mr Felt had expected to succeed J Edgar Hoover as its director when he died in 1972 and was enraged to be passed over for the job by President Nixon's nominee Patrick Gray III.

There was more at work here than the frustrated ambition of one man. Mr Felt's secret revelations to Mr Woodward were part of a general counterattack by US government law enforcement agencies against President Nixon who had been trying to place his own men in charge of them. The FBI man was not alone. A striking aspect of Watergate was the sheer quantity of leaks damaging to Nixon coming from all parts of the government, from the CIA to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Watergate investigation is often held up as the apogee of journalistic investigation, but the public memory of what happened gives a highly misleading and exaggerated impression of what journalists can achieve. The blow-by-blow account of Woodward and Bernstein in investigating the break-in are at the heart of their book All the President's Men and the film of the same name.

An impression is given that there are always lots of leakers out there desperate to leak and the assiduous journalist will always come up with an informant. In fact, Watergate was one of a kind as a scandal in the number of highly placed informants from the security agencies covertly willing to tell the media about the White House's illegal operations because they were defending their own turf.

The self-interested motives of the Deep Throats seldom comes across in accounts of the scandal in part because of the journalistic convention to pretend that anonymous sources make revelations from a sense of outraged morality or for no reason at all.

Journalists may think of themselves as spies, unrelenting investigators discovering and publishing dark secrets about the malpractices of government. This is the image commonly portrayed in movies about the media. But in practice every journalist soon discovers that people have an irritating inhibition about admitting to acts that might land them in court or in jail.

If they are forced to make admissions, as were so many of those involved in Watergate, it was because they are threatened with legal penalties by prosecutors and judges. A close look at the scoops attributed to Woodward and Bernstein shows that most of their accurate information was second hand and was extracted under threat of legal penalty by the Watergate prosecutors.

Most crimes are easy to discover and describe in general terms. I once covered the Lloyd's insurance market for the Financial Times in 1989-90 when it was perpetually mired in litigation and scandal. It did not take long to work out how those running some of the syndicates were parting investors from their money. But it was almost impossible to prove in detail what was happening because those making money out of it were intelligent enough to cover their tracks.

I had the same feeling a decade later when I was in Moscow as correspondent of The Independent and wanted to write about the Russian mafia. I knew a photographer whose uncle was a mafia boss in a city on the Volga north of Moscow. We met the uncle who politely asked why he should talk to us since this might lead to him being sent to prison. I said I could think of no reason in the world. He added that even to be seen talking to a journalist might lead to him being killed by his fellow mafiosi. I said that this was undoubtedly true. Nothing could be proven. We then drank a spectacular amount of vodka, and the uncle explained over the course of a long evening how his main racket worked. This turned out to be a simple but highly lucrative scheme for getting cut-price gasoline from the local oil refinery by a mixture of bribes and intimidation and selling it at a large profit. Unfortunately, the information was unpublishable because the local criminals had had the sense to hide their activities behind a maze of dummy companies and foreign bank accounts.

There is nothing wrong with Woodward and Bernstein benefiting from leaks that were generated by bureaucratic warfare in Washington in 1972. Anybody reporting on government will be dependent on sources within government. The Mark Felts of this world do not act simply out of a sense of righteousness but because they want to use the media as a weapon against their enemies.

At the height of the scandal over the Watergate break-in, Mr Felt found nothing strange in ordering nine equally illegal burglaries of the homes of friends and relatives of members of a left-wing splinter group. Crucial he may have been to the downfall of Nixon, Deep Throat was scarcely a single-minded opponent of the obstruction of justice.
2676  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Coming Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: December 22, 2008, 08:29:36 PM
NOAA's Ark

By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Monday, December 22, 2008 4:20 PM PT

Transition: President-elect Obama chooses as his science adviser and head of our weather research agency two global warming activists who believe your SUV is driving us over a climate cliff.

Personnel is policy, the political cliche goes, and on Saturday the Obama administration's policy on global warming became clear.

He nominated Harvard physicist John Holden to be his science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Both are global warming true believers. "Global warming is a misnomer," Holden said a year ago in a speech at Harvard. "It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those. There is already widespread harm . . . occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and grandchildren."

There is indeed widespread harm being done by changes in the weather as the nation is gripped by subzero cold and record snowfalls that have reached spots like Las Vegas and Malibu, Calif. The earth is cooling and has been for the last decade due to a decline in solar activity and changes in Pacific Ocean currents.

Holden's proposed cures to warming are, well, interesting. In that Harvard speech last November, he presented a "top 10" list of options. No. 1 was "limiting population," as if man was a plague upon the Earth, a major tenet of green dogma.

Never mind that with more bodies come more minds and more ideas for cleaner and more efficient technology. He does not say how we would do that. Adopt China's one-child policy perhaps?

Second on his list was reducing per capita GDP. Holden's long term goal is "equal per-capita emissions rights," meaning that a country may only emit an amount of carbon commensurate to the number of its persons, not on the basis of its production.

For example, the U.S. would be allowed to release only about 20 times as much carbon as Ecuador, although the U.S. produces 144 times the goods and services.
Interestingly, he puts nuclear power at No. 7, calling it a risky waste-producing option that includes the danger of proliferation. Never mind that here and around the world nuclear power has reduced the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by billions of tons. France gets 80% of its electricity from the atom, recycles its waste, and no one in the City of Lights glows in the dark.

And after the U.S. economy tanks, he says America and the rest of the developed world must pay "the up-front costs, offering assistance to developing countries," as they move to the new, green economy. This would be a global redistribution of wealth, but we have to spread the green around.

As for Lubchenco, she has warned that even if the world abruptly shifts away from fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to soak up carbon dioxide and become more acidic. She recommends protecting marine life by reducing overfishing, cutting back on nutrient runoff and creating marine reserves to protect marine ecosystems.

The irony here is that offshore oil platforms have been demonstrably good for marine life by serving as artificial reefs. Louisiana fishing tours head right for the offshore rigs where fish feed and congregate.

Much of the nutrient runoff she mentions is caused by the increased planting of crops for biofuels such as ethanol to replace petroleum. This has created dead zones for marine life in places like Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico while raising food prices around the globe.

This is change and advice we'd be wise to ignore.
2677  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Newspeak Cycle on: December 22, 2008, 06:33:07 PM
VIN SUPRYNOWICZ: Cooling is 'not evidence that global warming is slowing'

My relatives in New England are fighting their way out from under a giant ice storm. Here in Las Vegas it's been snowing all week, several weeks earlier than our usual one-day-a-year photo op of snow and icicles sparkling one of our palm-bedecked golf courses before melting away by afternoon. The National Weather Service calls it "a rare snow event."

Why? It's getting colder. 2008 was the coolest year in a decade.

The American mainstream press seem to know "team players" don't mention such inconvenient developments, but in the U.K., the esteemed Guardian reports, "This year is set to be the coolest since 2000, according to a preliminary estimate of global average temperature that is due to be released next week by the Met Office. The global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, which is 0.14C below the average temperature for 2001-07."

How stupid does this make politicians such as Barack Obama and the other suckers who have fallen for the "global warming" hoax as they race to say, "Never mind"?

Actually, they haven't missed a beat. These guys are so "scientific" that the evidence of their own eyes and overcoats has become irrelevant. They now contend global cooling is just further proof of global warming. Honest.

So-called "climate scientists" insist "The relatively chilly temperatures compared with recent years are not evidence that global warming is slowing," The Guardian reports.

Um ... Earth's cooling doesn't mean the Earth is cooling?

"Absolutely not," responds Dr. Peter Stott, the manager of understanding and attributing climate change at the Met Office's Hadley Centre. "If we are going to understand climate change we need to look at long-term trends."

You might want to pause and savor that for a moment. This is the gang who keep telling us, "The Debate is over! Dissent no longer allowed! Man-made global warming is going to ruin the Earth!"

Yet they now say cooling "is not evidence that global warming is slowing," and that, "If we are going to understand climate change we need to look at long-term trends."

If we are "going" to understand climate change? Like ... in the future?

Sure, the mean temperature may still go up for a few more years before it plummets. So? None of the great climate cycles of the past needed us to burn coal in our power plants to make them happen, and there's neither evidence nor any intuitive reason to believe the tiny percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide we now generate makes any substantial difference, either.

When will the "Let us take over and wreck your economy so we can save you from the climate boogey-man" gang admit the earth is cooling again, and when will they admit, "OK, since cooling is worse than warming, and our own theory is that mankind can impact global temperature by what we burn, it's now your duty to hold back the Big Freeze by going out there and burning all the fossil fuels you possibly can, as fast as you can"?

(Don't even get me started on "carbon trading," a weird scam in which the buyer acquires an invisible commodity of no earthly use to him, and both buyer and seller can benefit if they overestimate the amount being "transferred.")

Instead, on Monday, President-Elect Obama ("Delay is no longer an option; denial is no longer an acceptable response") appointed as Secretary of Energy (a position and an office not authorized in the Constitution) Steven Chu, the confirmed global warming lunatic from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who says coal -- the stuff that powered the industrial revolution, cheap coal which will last for centuries and which can be burned more cleanly now than ever before -- "is my worst nightmare."

This gang still intends to effectively ban both coal-fired and nuclear power generation. Do they believe they can meet our current demand with famously costly, unreliable, and toxic wind, solar and geothermal? (Look up the by-products of geothermal energy, some time. Then look up "battery farms.") Of course not. The gap can only be closed by "conservation," they'll admit when you take a pencil and start to work the numbers.

And what does "conservation" mean, precisely?

They'd like us to think they mean just turning out the lights in our empty rooms, that kind of thing. But they don't.

Mr. Obama has said it, straight out. He, the Chosen One, has had it Revealed to Him that we can no longer use 25 percent of the world's energy when we have only 5 percent of the world's population.

This is nonsense. All mankind uses less than 1 percent of the solar energy that streams past us every hour. Is it "unfair" that the Japanese eat "more than their fair per capita share" of the world's fish?

Are we now to be ruled by a depraved schoolchild obsessed with sharing the toys, granted the ability to carry forward that Ding-Dong School philosophy with powers reminiscent of the kid in the old "Twilight Zone" episode who could "wish people into the cornfield"?

We should be proud that we've learned how to capture and harness the lion's share of the available energy in this system. It's not like we refused to share with others "the secret of coal" or "the secret of oil," is it? They saw how good it was; they've been racing to catch up to us ever since; that's the main reason the world has escaped the life expectancies of the Stone Age.

There's a real world out there. Purposely, artificially impoverish the nation, force us to give up our competitive economic advantages, and we'll eventually go the way of the Carthaginians.

The Obama gang mean for us to learn to survive at 55 degrees in the winter; and to hope the tourists will still come to Vegas when our air conditioning only lowers the temperature to 87 in the summer (assuming we can afford even that.) They plan to unionize and thus close down most of our remaining factories -- the Chinese will make us everything we need, you see; we'll pay for it with the endless bales of green coupons printed by Ben Bernanke and the Elves in the Big Hollow Tree.

To see Mr. Obama admit "Under my plan, electricity costs will necessarily skyrocket" visit

In a Zogby exit poll, 88.4 percent of Obama voters expressed ignorance of the fact Obama said on the campaign trail that his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket. See the sample interviews at

Why did voters not know this? Because the mainstream press covered Wasilla, Alaska, like a glove, trying to dig up something on Sarah Palin's overdue library books. Meantime, when it turns out Barack Obama's Senate seat is for sale for a million bucks in Chicago, the press corps slaps their foreheads and exclaims in amazement: "More corruption in Chicago than there was in Wasilla?! Who would have thought to look there?! By the way, where is Obama from, anyway?"

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of "The Black Arrow." See and

Find this article at:
2678  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pot Labels Kettle Racist on: December 22, 2008, 10:44:05 AM
Primary and Secondary Racism
Mike S. Adams
Monday, December 22, 2008

Ann Coulter was right when she said the essence of being a liberal is having one set of rules for oneself and an entirely different set of rules for other people. Similarly, it could be asserted that the essence of liberal arts education is developing one set of theories that apply only to other people. Few better examples can be found than in the case of labeling theory, which derives from the pseudo-science of sociology.

Frank Tannenbaum had a number of valid points when, in the 1930s, he established some basic premises of labeling theory. He argued that, as a juvenile, everyone engages in some form of delinquent behavior. And he correctly pointed out that not everyone who engages in delinquency is caught and, therefore, labeled “delinquent.”

Tannenbaum was also correct in saying that parents, teachers, and peers sometimes over-react to juveniles caught in an act of delinquency. He was again on firm ground in asserting that these occasional over-reactions could actually produce more delinquency.

Surely, those who are labeled delinquent are less likely to be invited to associate with those who haven’t. And ostracism from conformists can lead to delinquent associations where the strengthening of deviant tendencies can occur.

Writing just a few years after Tannenbaum, Edwin Lemert did a lot to shape labeling theory into its present form. It is a form popular with progressives everywhere.

Lemert argued that people can engage in delinquency for any number of biological, sociological, or psychological reasons. Delinquency produced by any of these broad (categories of) factors is called “primary deviance.” But Lemert’s real contribution to various progressive causes (and socialist policies) flows from his explanation of a form of delinquency known as “secondary deviance.”

Lemert believed that if an individual was caught in an act of primary deviance, he was likely to be placed under greater subsequent scrutiny by parents, teachers, and various agents of social control. This, of course, meant the child was more likely to be caught engaging in delinquency again. Adopting Lemert’s premises, it is easy to understand how a vicious cycle could develop.

At some point, of course, the child might internalize the notion that he is a “deviant,” a “delinquent,” or just generally “bad.” This could lead to higher rates of delinquency. When it does, according to Lemert, “secondary deviance” has occurred. Many of us have come to dub this process, perhaps somewhat simplistically, as the “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Notions such as “secondary deviance” and “self-fulfilling prophecy” have done much to undermine the integrity of public education in this country. If you learned to read in first grade in the 1970s, you remember the “yellowbirds,” “redbirds,” and “bluebirds” reading groups. Labeling theorists thought it would be better to call a child a “yellowbird” than to call him “slow.”

(Author’s Note: I was a “yellowbird” in first grade and we all knew we were slow. We just contented ourselves with beating up the “bluebirds” during recess. Fortunately, due to the kindness of my favorite teacher Elsie Stephenson, I eventually became a “redbird.”).

Regrettably, all of this emphasis on self-esteem and negative labeling has resulted in many schools doing away with letter grades altogether. And when the kids play games at recess they are often forbidden from keeping score. They don’t want anyone to suffer the emotional trauma that results from being labeled a “loser” – even if for a day.

Liberal progressives have spent years taking a theory from sociology and applying it increasingly to the field of education. These progressives have shown a clear interest in the question of whether negative labels (e.g., “criminal,” “dumb”) are more frequently applied to blacks and other historically victimized groups.

But, curiously, one area of research remains unexplored: What impact does labeling someone a “racist” have on his self-image – and his propensity for future acts of racism?

Frank Tannenbaum, if he were alive today, might argue that everyone engages in some form of racist behavior. And he might point out that not everyone who engages in racism is caught and labeled “racist.”

Tannenbaum might also say that parents, teachers, and peers sometimes over-react to juveniles caught in an act of racial insensitivity. He would be on firm ground in asserting that these occasional over-reactions could actually produce more racial insensitivity.

Surely, those who are labeled “racist” are less likely to be invited to associate with those who haven’t. And ostracism from non-racists can lead to racist associations where the strengthening of racist tendencies can occur.

Lemert might agree that people can engage in racism for any number of biological, sociological, or psychological reasons. Racism produced by any of these broad (categories of) factors could be called “primary racism.”

Lemert might also agree that if an individual is caught in an act of primary racism, he is likely to be placed under greater subsequent scrutiny by parents, teachers, and various agents of social control. This, of course, means the child is more likely to be caught engaging in racial insensitivity again. Adopting Lemert’s premises, it is easy to understand how a vicious cycle could develop.

At some point, of course, the child might internalize the notion that he is a “racist” or just generally “bigoted.” This could lead to higher rates of bigotry. When it does, one might say that “secondary racism” has occurred. Many of us might call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

We all know that liberals often manufacture cases of racism in order to keep liberalism alive. But we need more research in the pseudo-science of sociology in order to determine how reckless accusations of racism are actually creating more real racism in America. The research can be used to test whether liberals really believe in labeling theory and whether they are willing to apply it to their own conduct.

If liberals really do believe in labeling theory, they should reconsider their own careless accusations of racism. If not, they should fess up, assign grades, and let children keep score during recess.

2679  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Spoofing Speed Cameras on: December 22, 2008, 08:52:22 AM
WEB EXCLUSIVE -- Local teens claim pranks on county's Speed Cams
By Joe Slaninka
Special to the Sentinel

As a prank, students from local high schools have been taking advantage of the county's Speed Camera Program in order to exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past, including other students and even teachers.

Students from Richard Montgomery High School dubbed the prank the Speed Camera "Pimping" game, according to a parent of a student enrolled at one of the high schools.
Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Students are even obtaining vehicles from their friends that are similar or identical to the make and model of the car owned by the targeted victim, according to the parent.
"This game is very disturbing," the parent said. "Especially since unsuspecting parents will also be victimized through receipt of unwarranted photo speed tickets.

The parent said that "our civil rights are exploited," and the entire premise behind the Speed Camera Program is called into question as a result of the growing this fad among students.
The Speed Camera Program was implemented in March of this year and used for the purpose of reducing traffic and pedestrian collisions in the county. Cameras are located in residential areas and school zones where the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or lower. A $40 citation is mailed to the owner of the car for violating the speed limit in these areas.
The Montgomery County Police said they have not seen or heard of this prank occurring but said they will keep an eye out for people committing the crime.

"I hope the public at large will complain loudly enough that local Montgomery County government officials will change their policy of using these cameras for monetary gain," the parent said. "The practice of sending speeding tickets to faceless recipients without any type of verification is unwarranted and an exploitation of our rights."

Edward Owusu, Assistant Principal at Wootton High School, said that he heard of local students pulling the prank when the school received a call from a parent informing them of its occurrence. "I have not heard of this happening among students at Wootton," Osuwu said. "It is unfortunate that kids have a lot of time on their hands that they can think of doing such a thing."

Montgomery County Council President Phil Andrews said that the issue is troubling in several respects. "I am concerned that someone could get hurt, first of all, because they are speeding in areas where they know speeding is a problem," he said.

Andrews also said that this could hurt the integrity of the Speed Camera Program. "It will cause potential problems for the Speed Camera Program in terms of the confidence in it," he said.
He said he is glad someone caught it before it becomes more widespread and he said he hopes that the word get out to the people participating in this that there will be consequences.
2680  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russian Internal Unrest Looming? on: December 22, 2008, 08:41:58 AM
The Moscow Times » Issue 4051 » News

Ria-novosti / AP

Signs of a Kremlin Fearful Of Unrest
12 December 2008By Nikolaus von Twickel / Staff WriterThis is the 12th in a series of reports about the effect of the global financial crisis on Russia.

Sociologist Yevgeny Gontmakher has painted a disturbing picture of what might emerge from the financial crisis.

As Gontmakher sees it, a provincial industrial town will see huge protests after massive layoffs at its main factory next year. The authorities scramble haphazardly to contain the unrest. Violence will spread, ultimately reaching Moscow.

The scenario, published under the headline "Novocherkassk 2009" in Vedomosti last month, is purely fictitious. But it triggered a very real reaction from the authorities. The government's media watchdog fired off a warning to Vedomosti that it was inciting extremism. Vedomosti is part of Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, the parent company of The Moscow Times.

Novocherkassk is a town in the southern Rostov region where Soviet police brutally quashed rioting workers in 1962.

Gontmakher, a deputy social protection minister and Kremlin official in the 1990s, said he had not expected such a response from the government, but the threat is real and growing daily as the crisis takes it toll. "Of course they are worried, and they should be," he said of the government.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has said Russia should be able to get through the crisis with minimal problems. He has repeatedly denied that his government bears any responsibility for the crisis, saying the economic downturn spread from the United States and has infected "all the economies of the world."

But Gontmakher is by no means alone in arguing that Russia's political stability, seen as a major achievement of Putin's eight-year presidency, is deceptive. The crisis has already led to a wave of layoffs across the country, despite the fact that Russian companies traditionally reduce wages before shedding staff.

Putin himself acknowledged in his televised question-and-answer session last week that the number of unemployed workers was expected to increase next year to "a little over 2 million" from the current 1.7 million.

In another sign that the government is nervous about disorder, President Dmitry Medvedev last month ordered law enforcement agencies to stamp out any social unrest linked to the crisis. "If someone tries to exploit the consequences of the financial crisis … they should intervene, bring criminal charges. Otherwise, there won't be order," he told senior police officials at a public briefing in St. Petersburg.

Incidentally, Putin and Medvedev visited Novocherkassk this February and laid flowers at a stone in memory of those killed in 1962.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent State Duma deputy and liberal opposition activist, said much of the crisis has been brought on by the government and its refusal to deregulate the economy, be held accountable by the parliament and allow political competition.

"This crisis did not arise because of events in America. It arose because of [the government's] mistakes," he said.

Ryzhkov said Russian companies would not have secured so much foreign debt during the last three years — decisions that now have led the economy to the brink of bankruptcy — if the parliament had been given oversight over the government's actions. He singled out Medvedev and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as being particularly responsible for the current financial straits, noting that Medvedev, who was chairman of Gazprom before acceding to the presidency this spring, and Sechin, Rosneft's chairman, had overseen heavy foreign borrowing by the two state corporations over the past three years.

Yet opinion polls indicate that the government faces little public discontent. Trust in Putin stood firmly at 59 percent in late November while trust in Medvedev dipped slightly from 45 percent to 44 percent, according to a survey by state-run VTsIOM. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The government's popularity will depend largely on its ability to stave off the crisis, said Nikita Belykh, the former leader of the Union of Right Forces, who this week was nominated by Medvedev to become the governor of Kirov.

"The Kremlin has enough money to keep the situation under control for a few months. But in the medium term, political changes are inevitable, and there will be clashes between powerful political groups," Belykh said.

Two factors in the government's favor, he said, are its ability to control information through state media and Russians' tendency to be apolitical. However, popular anger against the authorities could increase considerably because the public is feeling increasingly alienated from the country's leadership, he said.

Ryzhkov said the crucial question was whether the government could balance the budget over the first half of 2009. "The turning point will come when they cannot pay off state corporations' gigantic debts anymore," he said.

The government's financial capabilities are largely linked to oil prices, which have fallen to less than $50 a barrel from a high of $147 in July.

"If oil falls below $20, there will be a revolution," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank.

He said Putin's popularity rested on the fact that ordinary people had gotten a share of the riches, in stark contrast to the 1990s when a tiny minority got very rich while the majority sank into poverty.

"Crises will break out left and right if the Kremlin oligarchy can no longer share the wealth with the people," Pribylovsky said.

While the economic boom of recent years has increased the real incomes of most people, inequality levels have not come down. Moscow's Gini index, a scientific standard for measuring income distribution, is estimated at 0.6, making the capital one of the world's most unequal cities.

Putin's popularity is almost entirely built on the economic boom, so it could crumble if the economy goes bust, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who tracks Kremlin politics. "Everyone was happy as long they got government money," she said.

That puts the government in the difficult position of how to trim spending. Cuts to the public sector would upset bureaucrats, while cuts to defense would anger the powerful siloviki.

The government has shown reluctance to speak out openly about the crisis after many people saw their savings vanish in two previous crises — the Soviet collapse in 1991 and the 1998 default. The authorities "only have two choices — to lie or to create a panic. In 1998, they chose the truth and panic, and the result was very bad," Kryshtanovskaya said.

In late November, the Economic Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly warned that a global recession would threaten "to undermine the very foundations of democracy" in many countries.

Interestingly, the government appears to have stepped up its efforts to rein in opposition groups. Last month, remnants of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, were folded into a new pro-business party called Right Cause, a move that is widely seen as a Kremlin attempt to round out the political spectrum with obedient parties.

Belykh, who resigned from SPS saying cooperation with the Kremlin was unacceptable, raised eyebrows in liberal circles this week with his decision to accept Medvedev's invitation to become governor.

Ryzhkov said that even though Russia's opposition was weak and divided, there were people in the regions who were willing and able to challenge the government. "I will not name anyone, but I can tell you that there are terrific specialists on economic and political reform who could make up a Russian dream team that would fix the flagrant mistakes made by Putin's people," he said.

In the meantime, people are wondering how bad matters will get. Harald Leibrecht, a German lawmaker with the liberal Free Democrats and deputy chairman of the German-Russian parliamentary group, said the Vedomosti incident showed that the situation was not as rosy as depicted by Putin and Medvedev.

"It is very strange but telling" that the newspaper received the warning, Leibrecht said in e-mailed comments.

The warning is probably linked to government fears that the country might slide into the chaos of the 1990s, he said.

The media watchdog, the Federal Service for Oversight over Communications and Mass Media, has the power to ask a court to revoke a newspaper's license after issuing two warnings. But Vedomosti lawyers have decided that last month's warning did not qualify has an official warning but as a reminder.

In any case, the head of the watchdog, Boris Boyarskov, was dismissed last week by Medvedev after four years in the post, Interfax reported Wednesday. The circumstances behind the decision were unclear.
2681  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Fine Time to Go Green on: December 22, 2008, 08:29:23 AM
The Last Thing Calif. Needs: Tax Increases

By CHUCK DEVORE | Posted Thursday, December 18, 2008 4:20 PM PT

In the past 10 years, under both Republican and Democratic governors, legislative Democrats have presided over a doubling of the California budget, from $72 billion in 1998 to $145 billion. This is double the rate of population and inflation growth, and it is unsustainable.

How unsustainable? California may have a $42 billion deficit over the next 18 months, an astonishing 30% of revenue expected just a few months earlier. California may run out of cash by the end of February, causing state financial officials to vote on Wednesday to halt $4 billion in construction spending. A California bond maturing in 30 years yields about 6.89% — 1.8 percentage points more than three months ago.

California has the nation's highest income taxes, the highest state sales tax rate, the highest gas tax and the highest corporate tax in the western U.S. And contrary to popular mythology about Proposition 13 (passed by the voters in 1978), the state's property taxes are at the national average.

Forbes magazine ranks California as having the highest business costs (taking into account taxes, labor and energy). The Tax Foundation ranks California as having the 48th worst business-tax climate, down from 38th just three years earlier. Only New Jersey and New York are assessed as more hostile to business.

Clearly, California does not have a yawning budget deficit because of a light, business-friendly tax burden. California has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Yet, in spite of all the overspending, majority Democrats are only offering one-time reductions in the spending of $8 billion. There is no talk of government reform without which any solution would last no more than a year.

California has America's most generous welfare rules. We have not fully implemented the historic welfare-to-work reforms signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, risking federal sanctions as a result. California even spends hundreds of millions of dollars on optional benefits for those in the U.S. illegally. Some state health and welfare programs are growing at a 7%-8% annual clip, with no letup in sight.

Further, California's heavy-handed regulations act as a hidden, added tax on productivity. For instance, California regulates 177 occupations, nearly twice the national average, forcing many residents to pay fees, take tests, and get additional schooling just to put food on the table.

California's housing regulations shackled urban homeowners with added costs of $2.7 trillion, according to one 2006 study by the Reason Foundation, accounting for almost half of the entire nation's regulatory burden of $5.5 trillion. Restrictions on drilling for oil keep over a billion barrels of crude in state coastal waters off-limits to even slant drilling from inland areas, taking a billion dollars a year in royalties off the table.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has rightly called for an easing of the regulatory burden, both environmental and labor laws, to stimulate the sagging economy. Unfortunately, the greatest new regulatory costs have been championed by the governor himself, with new global warming and renewable energy rules set to add about $1,700 in annual costs for a California family of four over the next 10 years.

With an 8.2% unemployment rate, America's third-highest, California workers are likely to see far greater pain in the months ahead as lawmakers resist reducing taxes on capital and wealth generation, and instead seek to increase taxes by $11 billion over the next 18 months.

This includes a 2.5% income-tax surcharge, a 10% increase in sales tax collections by increasing the base rate from 7.25% to 8%, and a $2.1 billion increase in the gasoline tax and others — all on top of what are already the nation's highest income, sales and gas taxes.

There are two problems with this massive Democratic tax increase plan: It will throw more working Californians into the unemployment line, and it's unconstitutional.

In 1978, California voters kicked off a national tax revolt by passing Proposition 13, and in the process boosting the political career of a former California governor by the name of Ronald Reagan. Proposition 13 created Article XIII of the state constitution, which says the legislature cannot raise taxes except by a two-thirds majority vote in each house.
Democrats are a few votes short of two-thirds in each house, giving Republicans, who understand that increasing taxes in this economic climate is tantamount to economic suicide, leverage to call for government reform.

At this writing, Democrats may give the governor some regulatory reforms in the hope that he will sign their illegal $11 billion tax increase. Legislative Republicans encourage Gov. Schwarzenegger to veto the package and uphold his oath to defend the constitution while defending the hardworking taxpayers of the Golden State.

DeVore, a California state assemblyman (R-Irvine), is also a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010.,davore
2682  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Can Climate Science Currently Answer Questions? on: December 21, 2008, 01:44:37 PM
Richard Lindzen is one of the folks most vilified by the anthropomorphic global warming crowd, mostly because he has the habit of going where the research leads rather than bending his findings to conform to the political dictates du jour. In this piece, the first two sections excerpted here, Lindzen explore the processes that lie behind the current AGW crusade.

Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?1
Richard S. Lindzen
Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
November 29, 2008
For a variety of inter-related cultural, organizational, and political reasons, progress in climate
science and the actual solution of scientific problems in this field have moved at a much slower
rate than would normally be possible.  Not all these factors are unique to climate science, but the
heavy influence of politics has served to amplify the role of the other factors.  By cultural
factors, I primarily refer to the change in the scientific paradigm from a dialectic opposition
between theory and observation to an emphasis on simulation and observational programs.  The
latter serves to almost eliminate the dialectical focus of the former.  Whereas the former had the
potential for convergence, the latter is much less effective.  The institutional factor has many
components.  One is the inordinate growth of administration in universities and the consequent
increase in importance of grant overhead.  This leads to an emphasis on large programs that
never end.  Another is the hierarchical nature of formal scientific organizations whereby a small
executive council can speak on behalf of thousands of scientists as well as govern the
distribution of ‘carrots and sticks’ whereby reputations are made and broken.  The above factors
are all amplified by the need for government funding.  When an issue becomes a vital part of a
political agenda, as is the case with climate, then the politically desired position becomes a goal
rather than a consequence of scientific research.  This paper will deal with the origin of the
cultural changes and with specific examples of the operation and interaction of these factors.  In
particular, we will show how political bodies act to control scientific institutions, how scientists
adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions, and how
opposition to these positions is disposed of.

1. Introduction.
Although the focus of this paper is on climate science, some of the problems pertain to science
more generally.  Science has traditionally been held to involve the creative opposition of theory
and observation wherein each tests the other in such a manner as to converge on a better 
understanding of the natural world.  Success was rewarded by recognition, though the degree of
recognition was weighted according to both the practical consequences of the success and the
philosophical and aesthetic power of the success.  As science undertook more ambitious
problems, and the cost and scale of operations increased, the need for funds undoubtedly shifted
emphasis to practical relevance though numerous examples from the past assured a strong base
level of confidence in the utility of science.  Moreover, the many success stories established
‘science’ as a source of authority and integrity.  Thus, almost all modern movements claimed
scientific foundations for their aims.  Early on, this fostered a profound misuse of science, since
science is primarily a successful mode of inquiry rather than a source of authority.   
Until the post World War II period, little in the way of structure existed for the formal support of
science by government (at least in the US which is where my own observations are most
relevant).    In the aftermath of  the Second World War, the major contributions of science to the
war effort (radar, the A-bomb), to health (penicillin), etc. were evident.  Vannevar Bush (in his
report, Science: The Endless Frontier, 1945) noted the many practical roles that validated the
importance of science to the nation, and argued that the government need only adequately
support basic science in order for further benefits to emerge.  The scientific community felt this
paradigm to be an entirely appropriate response by a  grateful nation.  The next 20 years
witnessed truly impressive scientific productivity which firmly established the United States as
the creative center of the scientific world.  The Bush paradigm seemed amply justified. (This
period and its follow-up are also discussed by Miller, 2007, with special but not total emphasis
on the NIH (National Institutes of Health).)  However, something changed in the late 60’s.  In a
variety of fields it has been suggested that the rate of new discoveries and achievements slowed
appreciably (despite increasing publications)2, and it is being suggested that either the Bush
paradigm ceased to be valid or that it may never have been valid in the first place.  I believe that
the former is correct.  What then happened in the 1960’s to produce this change?
It is my impression that by the end of the 60’s scientists, themselves, came to feel that the real
basis for support was not gratitude (and the associated trust that support would bring further
benefit) but fear: fear of the Soviet Union, fear of cancer, etc.  Many will conclude that this was
merely an awakening of a naive scientific community to reality, and they may well be right. 
However, between the perceptions of gratitude and fear as the basis for support lies a world of
difference in incentive structure.  If one thinks the basis is gratitude, then one obviously will
respond by contributions that will elicit more gratitude.  The perpetuation of fear, on the other
hand, militates against solving problems.  This change in perception proceeded largely without
comment.  However, the end of the cold war, by eliminating a large part of the fear-base forced a
reassessment of the situation.  Most thinking has been devoted to the emphasis of other sources
of fear: competitiveness,  health, resource depletion and the environment.
What may have caused this change in perception is unclear, because so many separate but
potentially relevant things occurred almost simultaneously.  The space race reinstituted the
model of large scale focused efforts such as the moon landing program.  For another, the 60’s
saw the first major postwar funding cuts for science in the US.  The budgetary pressures of the
Vietnam War may have demanded savings someplace, but the fact that science was regarded as,
to some extent, dispensable, came as a shock to many scientists.  So did the massive increase in
management structures and bureaucracy which took control of science out of the hands of
working scientists.  All of this may be related to the demographic pressures resulting from the
baby boomers entering the workforce and the post-sputnik emphasis on science.  Sorting this out
goes well beyond my present aim which is merely to consider the consequences of fear as a
perceived basis of support.
Fear has several advantages over gratitude.  Gratitude is intrinsically limited, if only by the finite
creative capacity of the scientific community.  Moreover, as pointed out by a colleague at MIT,
appealing to people’s gratitude and trust is usually less effective than pulling a gun.  In other
words, fear can motivate greater generosity.  Sputnik provided a notable example in this regard;
though it did not immediately alter the perceptions of most scientists, it did lead to a great
increase in the number of scientists, which contributed to the previously mentioned demographic
pressure.  Science since the sixties has been characterized by the large programs that this
generosity encourages.  Moreover, the fact that fear provides little incentive for scientists to do
anything more than perpetuate problems, significantly reduces the dependence of the scientific
enterprise on unique skills and talents.  The combination of increased scale and diminished
emphasis on unique talent is, from a certain point of view, a devastating combination which
greatly increases the potential for the political direction of science, and the creation of dependent
constituencies.  With these new constituencies, such obvious controls as peer review and detailed
accountability, begin to fail and even serve to perpetuate the defects of the system.  Miller (2007)
specifically addresses how the system especially favors dogmatism and conformity.
The creation of the government bureaucracy, and the increasing body of regulations
accompanying government funding, called, in turn, for a massive increase in the administrative
staff at universities and research centers.  The support for this staff comes from the overhead on
government grants, and, in turn, produces an active pressure for the solicitation of more and
larger grants3.

One result of the above appears to have been the deemphasis of theory because of its intrinsic
difficulty and small scale, the encouragement of simulation instead (with its call for large capital
investment in computation), and the encouragement of large programs unconstrained by specific
goals4.  In brief, we have the new paradigm where simulation and programs have replaced theory
and observation, where government largely determines the nature of scientific activity, and
where the primary role of professional societies is the lobbying of the government for special
This new paradigm for science and its dependence on fear based support may not constitute
corruption per se, but it does serve to make the system particularly vulnerable to corruption. 
Much of the remainder of this paper will illustrate the exploitation of this vulnerability in the
area of climate research.  The situation is particularly acute for a small weak field like
climatology.  As a field, it has traditionally been a subfield within such disciplines as
meteorology, oceanography, geography, geochemistry, etc.  These fields, themselves are small
and immature. At the same time, these fields can be trivially associated with natural disasters. 
Finally, climate science has been targeted by a major political movement, environmentalism, as
the focus of their efforts, wherein the natural disasters of the earth system, have come to be
identified with man’s activities – engendering fear as well as an agenda for societal reform and
control. The remainder of this paper will briefly describe how this has been playing out with
respect to the climate issue.

2683  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Of Sizzle and Steak on: December 20, 2008, 11:35:59 AM
Reminds me of how the Chevy CEO showed up to the last congressional grilling he had to endure driving a Chevy Volt. Of course the car only has a range of 40 miles so it had to ride on the back of a truck to the outskirts of DC. . . .

Much like with ethanol, electric vehicles are a lot more about sizzle than steak and have well known engineering issues to overcome before they are presented as solutions.
2684  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Warped Roommate Wanted Ad on: December 18, 2008, 07:32:36 PM
Second post.

A purported Craigslist roommate wanted ad:

I am seeking out a roommate. I’ve had several the past 3 months that did not work out so well and am hoping to find “the perfect housemate.” I think it can be done!

1. I am a plastic surgeon, single straight male, and am wealthy but rather lonely. I could keep this house to myself, and have for about a year, but I’ve realised that life is much better when it’s shared with people who are conscious (as opposed to my clients and my nursing staff!). (This is not to say that my nursing staff is unconscious - obviously they are not! It’s just very difficult to become friends with a staff that is somewhat dubious of my methods. I’m no rogue, but I do have Eastern-influenced techniques that some find odd and/or disconcerting - but I do have a 99% success rate! In any case, it doesn’t make much sense to mix business and pleasure.)

2. I do have a dog, Basil Ironweed (yes that is his name, people seem to be confused that I have given him a full name like a person and some kind of laugh, but I assure you I take my dog very seriously and treat him with respect, and I ask that you do the same). It would actually be ideal if you have a female dog of pure pedigree (I’d need to see the papers though, for breeding purposes) and I’d prefer her to be a medium-sized dog (I will consider most breeds except absolutely no Australian Kelpies and no American Water Spaniels, please! The colouring of the mating dogs’ possible kin would be horrendous if this were the case! Also, Basil is a Border Collie in case you were wondering!) If you do not have a dog, that is also fine. All other pets will be considered except: no cats unless they are of the outdoor variety, no arthropods, and all avians must be salmonella-free, clipped toenails, and tagged.

3. My house has only a one-car garage. It used to be a two-car one, but I decided to convert half of it into a micro-personal gym as I am rather health conscious. (I do have a gym membership, but my gym is not 24-hour, and sometimes at night I really need to get on the bowflex to burn off some of my energy since I have a lot of it! Also, after meals it’s inconvenient for me to run off to the gym, and that is why I need one at my disposal. The gym membership is because they have a pool there, and swimming is really good for the joints. Just in case you were wondering.) That said, you’ll have to use street parking, but I assure you that my neighborhood is quiet and safe, and there is usually a spot right out in front of my house! (The only time the spot is taken is when the lunch truck comes for the construction workers that are on the corner of my street. It only sits there for about 20 minutes between 1 and 2 pm during the week, depending on how chatty the boys are that day.)

Anyways, I have a few rules that need to be followed, but other than that, we should get along fine! I request that you listen to all music via headphones. I have mild tinnitus and the sounds from most Hi-Fi equipment sans headphones really irritate me. I am open to discussing music, but sadly we cannot directly share it as my ears can’t handle rapidly changing frequencies. (If you’d like to share lyrics, I’d be more than delighted to oblige!)

If you are going to cook, please do not use the following spices: curries, paprika, anything Cajun, and dill. The smells of these things turns my stomach. (If you have any scents that you’d like to avoid, by all means let me know and I’ll do you the same honour.)

You must brush your teeth at least twice a day. If there is anything I cannot stand it’s filthy teeth. (Believe me, I’ve had a couple roommates who just could not handle this simple routine - your gingiva may not mind, but I certainly DO.)

If you are going to watch tv, please let me know in advance which programs you’d like to watch. I do have TiVo, by the by, and I have certain shows that I simply must watch when they originally air. I cannot be too flexible with this because I cannot stand to wait to see my programs. You have to understand that I simply have to watch them when they originally air or I will get a little batty. Most of my programs are on public broadcasting and do not tend to run during prime-time spots.

I do not appreciate unannounced house-guests. I need to know at least two days in advance that company is coming - I need to know the duration of the stay, and the nature of the visit. But, I am open to any and all visitors, I just need to know the specifics involved.

I have reduced rent drastically because I realise that some of my requests might seem slightly stringent. I will pay the bulk of the rent in exchange for your understanding, your commitment to the house, and your humouring of my quirks.

You must be ok with my upholstery hobby. On every third Tuesday of the month I request that you vacate the house between the hours of 4 pm - 11:45pm while I upholster various pieces of antique furniture. I am a perfectionist and require complete silence in the house. I’ve tried this with housemates who’ve promised to stay in their rooms, but this proved impossible as bathroom habits demand a regular schedule that interrupts my artisan work. That said, I will give you a small stipend on these days if it will assist you in finding something to do with that block of time.

No newspapers or magazines. The ink gets everywhere and the gloss irritates my eyes. Sorry! You are free to read them on the front porch, but they must be stored outside of the house (perhaps in your car?)

This is not to sound discriminating, but, if you speak either French, Urdu, or Afrikaans, I kindly request that you not speak them in my vicinity as the cadences used in these languages are grating to the ears and nerves, for me.

I have fresh produce delivered from an undisclosed location to my home every Wednesday afternoon. Please do not purchase fruits or vegetables and bring them home. You can request any that you desire and I will add them to my order queue. (I am fastidious about potential-GM produce and pesticide usage - I will not tolerate either!) Also, if you insist on preparing red meat dishes in the home, do cook the meat thoroughly. IT MUST SIZZLE.

No cellphone tones in my home! Please use silent mode only!

You are not to use paints in the home. The noxious odours will aggravate my allergies!

That’s the summary of my requests! I do actually have a handbook which I will provide for your perusal during our interview (yes, there will be an interview for final-stage candidates) that outlines all of my more particular requests.

If you are interested, please email me the following information:

1. Name

2. Occupation

3. Age

4. Allergies

5. Favourite author

2685  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics on: December 18, 2008, 05:05:52 PM
**Speed may not be the cause, but the greater the speed, the greater the damage and potential for injury/death that results from the accident. The greater the speed, the less likely you are to avoid a collision with another vehicle or person.**

Well yes and no; you gotta pay attention to conditions and adjust accordingly, but I'm a firm believer, particularly when two-wheeling, that you can avoid trouble by accelerating about as well as you can by decelerating. Leaving trouble behind you is a good thing, as is movement out of an area where a knucklehead is being a knucklehead.
2686  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Drunk Driver Sues Person she Rear Ended on: December 18, 2008, 12:52:20 PM
Time to start a chutzpah thread?

Judge's daughter sues driver she ran into during crash
By BRIAN ROGERS Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Dec. 18, 2008, 7:42AM

Elizabeth Shelton, shown with her father, juvenile court Judge Pat Shelton, had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal limit when the SUV she was driving rear-ended a truck, killing her boyfriend.

Convicted last year of intoxication manslaughter for the death of her boyfriend, the 21-year-old daughter of a state district judge is suing the truck driver she ran into during a drunken driving crash.

Elizabeth Shelton, the daughter of juvenile judge Pat Shelton, is accusing truck driver Lance Bennett of negligence in the Oct. 23, 2007, wreck that killed her boyfriend Matthew McNiece.

Shelton had a blood alcohol concentration more than three times the legal limit, two tests showed. She was sentenced to eight years' probation and had to serve four months in jail.
Shelton, her family and the family of the boyfriend who was killed are suing for $20,000 for the destruction of the Lexus SUV she was driving and an undetermined amount for mental anguish, pain and suffering.

Bennett was driving the box truck that Shelton rear-ended on the Southwest Freeway near Kirby around 2 a.m.

Bennett's attorney, John Havins, said the lawsuit, filed in October, was the last chance to make a claim before the statute of limitations ran out.

He noted that Shelton named 16 defendants, including insurance companies and banks. "They're just throwing everything against the wall to see if anything sticks," Havins said.
During Shelton's trial, an expert for the defense testified there was evidence that Bennett swerved into Shelton's lane. An expert for the prosecution, however, said there wasn't evidence that Bennett got in her way.

Testimony also showed that the company Bennett was working for let the insurance on the truck lapse.

"The injuries and property damage sustained by (Shelton and her family) were not the result of intentional acts, but were accidental and caused by the negligence of the uninsured/underinsured driver," Shelton's attorney Mark Sandoval wrote in the lawsuit.
2687  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Carbon Sequestering Caused Little Ice Age? on: December 18, 2008, 11:38:54 AM
New World Post-Pandemic Reforestation Helped Start Little Ice Age, Say Stanford Scientists
December 18th, 2008 in Space & Earth science / Earth Sciences

The power of viruses is well documented in human history. Swarms of little viral Davids have repeatedly laid low the great Goliaths of human civilization, most famously in the devastating pandemics that swept the New World during European conquest and settlement.

In recent years, there has been growing evidence for the hypothesis that the effect of the pandemics in the Americas wasn't confined to killing indigenous peoples. Global climate appears to have been altered as well.

Stanford University researchers have conducted a comprehensive analysis of data detailing the amount of charcoal contained in soils and lake sediments at the sites of both pre-Columbian population centers in the Americas and in sparsely populated surrounding regions. They concluded that reforestation of agricultural lands-abandoned as the population collapsed-pulled so much carbon out of the atmosphere that it helped trigger a period of global cooling, at its most intense from approximately 1500 to 1750, known as the Little Ice Age.

"We estimate that the amount of carbon sequestered in the growing forests was about 10 to 50 percent of the total carbon that would have needed to come out of the atmosphere and oceans at that time to account for the observed changes in carbon dioxide concentrations," said Richard Nevle, visiting scholar in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford. Nevle and Dennis Bird, professor in geological and environmental sciences, presented their study at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 17, 2008.

Nevle and Bird synthesized published data from charcoal records from 15 sediment cores extracted from lakes, soil samples from 17 population centers and 18 sites from the surrounding areas in Central and South America. They examined samples dating back 5,000 years.
What they found was a record of slowly increasing charcoal deposits, indicating increasing burning of forestland to convert it to cropland, as agricultural practices spread among the human population-until around 500 years ago: At that point, there was a precipitous drop in the amount of charcoal in the samples, coinciding with the precipitous drop in the human population in the Americas.

To verify their results, they checked their fire histories based on the charcoal data against records of carbon dioxide concentrations and carbon isotope ratios that were available.
"We looked at ice cores and tropical sponge records, which give us reliable proxies for the carbon isotope composition of atmospheric carbon dioxide. And it jumped out at us right away," Nevle said. "We saw a conspicuous increase in the isotope ratio of heavy carbon to light carbon. That gave us a sense that maybe we were looking at the right thing, because that is exactly what you would expect from reforestation."

During photosynthesis, plants prefer carbon dioxide containing the lighter isotope of carbon. Thus a massive reforestation event would not only decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but would also leave carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that was enriched in the heavy carbon isotope.
Other theories have been proposed to account for the cooling at the time of the Little Ice Age, as well as the anomalies in the concentration and carbon isotope ratios of atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with that period.

Variations in the amount of sunlight striking the Earth, caused by a drop in sunspot activity, could also be a factor in cooling down the globe, as could a flurry of volcanic activity in the late 16th century.

But the timing of these events doesn't fit with the observed onset of the carbon dioxide drop. These events don't begin until at least a century after carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to decline and the ratio of heavy to light carbon isotopes in atmospheric carbon dioxide begins to increase.

Nevle and Bird don't attribute all of the cooling during the Little Ice Age to reforestation in the Americas.

"There are other causes at play," Nevle said. "But reforestation is certainly a first-order contributor."

Source: Stanford University
2688  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Accident Causes on: December 18, 2008, 11:10:13 AM
I couldn't come up with a better topic to publish this under, so point me toward one if you know of it. As that may be, seems we are always being told that reducing the speed limit will reduce accident, though this recent study shows only about 5% of accidents are speed related. As an admitted speeder, albeit one who signals lane changes, keeps to the right lane except to pass, who doesn't tailgate or or drive aggressively, etc. and who drives a lot, my experience is that the folks who are most dangerous are the ones who are distracted and ego-driven. This report confirms the distracted element, though it appears the methodology doesn't allow for ego issues to be derived. One hopes policy makers will heed the findings rather than reflexively lowering speed limits.

Article from:

US DOT Report Confirms Speed Not Major Accident Cause
US Department of Transportation study finds only five percent of crashes caused by excessive speed.

As lawmakers around the country continue to consider speed limit enforcement as the primary traffic safety measure, the most comprehensive examination of accident causation in thirty years suggests this focus on speed may be misplaced.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated 5,471 injury crashes that took place across the country between July 3, 2005 and December 31, 2007. Unlike previous studies automatically generated from computerized data found in police reports, researchers in this effort were dispatched to accident scenes before they were cleared. This allowed a first-hand comparison of physical evidence with direct interviews of witnesses and others involved in the incident. NHTSA evaluated the data to determine the factors most responsible for the collision.

"The critical reason is determined by a thorough evaluation of all the potential problems related to errors attributable to the driver, the condition of the vehicle, failure of vehicle systems, adverse environmental conditions, and roadway design," the report explained. "The critical pre-crash event refers to the action or the event that puts a vehicle on the course that makes the collision unavoidable, given reasonable driving skills and vehicle handling of the driver."

Overall, vehicles "traveling too fast for conditions" accounted for only five percent of the critical pre-crash events (page 23). More significant factors included 22 percent driving off the edge of a road, or 11 percent who drifted over the center dividing line.

When driver error was the primary cause of a crash, researchers went further to identify the "critical reason" behind that error. Distraction and not paying attention to the road accounted for 41 percent of the errors. Ten percent of errors were attributed to drivers lacking proper driving skills and either freezing up or overcompensating behind the wheel. Eight percent were asleep, having a heart attack or otherwise incapacitated. A similar eight percent of errors were attributed to driving too fast for conditions and five percent driving too fast for a curve (page 25).

The NHTSA findings are mirrored in accident statistics provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The agency's most recent report lists "speed too fast" as the driver error that caused 2.9 percent of crashes in 2007 (view chart, see page 19). More accidents -- 3.8 percent -- were caused in Virginia by drivers falling asleep or becoming ill behind the wheel. Another 14.6 percent were caused by bad weather such as fog, rain and snow. "Speed too fast" was a more significant factor -- 13.7 percent -- in fatal accidents, as compared to 18 percent of fatal accidents involving alcohol and 9.6 percent caused by sleepiness and fatigue ( view full Virginia report in 1.9mb PDF format).

In the NHTSA and Virginia reports, "too fast for conditions" does not mean exceeding the posted speed limit. A vehicle driving 10 MPH on an iced-over road with a 45 MPH limit would be traveling too fast for the conditions if it lost control, but it would not have exceeded the speed limit. The UK Department for Transport isolated cases where only the posted limit was exceeded and found that, "Exceeding speed limit was attributed to 3 percent of cars involved in accidents" (view UK report).

"Four of the six most frequently reported contributory factors involved driver or rider error or reaction," the Road Casualties Great Britain 2007 report stated. "For fatal accidents the most frequently reported contributory factor was loss of control, which was involved in 35 per cent of fatal accidents."

A full copy of the NHTSA report is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (U.S. Department of Transportation, 7/15/2008)

2689  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: December 17, 2008, 08:24:08 PM
Heh heh. Back in the late 80's I was living in Madison, Wisco, where I'd deal with all sorts of sweetness and light types seeking my signature on petitions to make Madison a nuclear free zone. Little did these yo-yos know that I had studied a lot of Soviet military and gulag history; they didn't like it very much as I laid out in graphic detail just how inane their petition was.
2690  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gang Green, Relocated on: December 17, 2008, 08:12:55 PM

We Are the Green Team

Will Obama's environmental advisors spearhead a new global warming treaty by next year?

Ronald Bailey | December 16, 2008

On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama revealed the "Green Team" that will guide his energy and climate change policies. Its members include Nobel physicist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy; former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection chief Lisa Jackson as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, as the White House's "energy/climate czar," a position tasked with leading the Obama administration's battle against man-made global warming.

Their nominations came just after the United Nations' annual climate change conference sputtered to an indecisive close at Poznań, Poland last week. Climate negotiators from nearly 190 countries made little headway toward a new global warming treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. At the Bali climate change conference in 2007, negotiators promised that the world would adopt binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limits at the 2009 Copenhagen conference.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized nations are supposed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases—chiefly carbon dioxide—by an average of 5 percent below the levels emitted in 1990. According to the latest United Nations data, the emissions from former Soviet Bloc Kyoto Protocol signatories fell 37 percent, largely due to the collapse of their economies. On the other hand, emissions from modern industrialized Kyoto signatories rose by 3.7 percent. For example, between 1990 and 2004, Canada's emissions increased 27 percent, Australia's 25 percent, Japan's 6.5 percent, Italy's 12 percent, Turkey's 72 percent, and Spain's 49 percent. Emissions from non-Kyoto parties rose steeply from 1990 levels as well, including China's by 47 percent, India's by 55 percent, and the United States' by 16 percent. China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In fact, global emissions grew by 28 percent during this decade, three times faster than the 9 percent increase that occurred in the 1990s.

Turning these global emissions trends around may be much harder than United Nations analysts previously thought. A sobering new study in the journal Climate Research by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado, for instance, suggests that it is unlikely that most developing countries will be able to afford new low-carbon energy technologies on their own. "There is simply no evidence that developing countries will somehow become wealthier and be in a position to install more environmentally friendly technologies," says Patricia Romero Lankao, an NCAR sociologist who is the lead author of the study. The study projects that the economic growth of many poor countries will overwhelm increases in energy efficiency, resulting in ever higher emissions of greenhouse gases.

During the negotiations at Poznań, representatives of the developing countries pointed out that rich countries have loaded up the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide as their economies grew. They argued that as a matter of climate justice, poor countries can either use cheap carbon-based energy to lift their people out of poverty or else rich countries can agree to install more expensive low-carbon energy production technologies in their countries. As part of a new global climate treaty, poor countries want rich countries to pay $50 to $80 billion per year into a climate adaptation fund to finance their energy transformation. Why this form of foreign aid would be any more effective than the massive failed programs of the past is not addressed.

For years, the United States has been cast as the villain in the global warming negotiations, contrasted against the ecological saints that make up the European Union. However, during the Poznań conference, EU leaders squabbled over a plan to reduce the EU's emissions by 20 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020. Disappointed environmental activists argue that this commitment is a "mirage," and that the EU will actually cut its emissions by around 4 percent.

Meanwhile, the world waits to see what Barack Obama will do. During the campaign, Obama pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020—which implies a decrease of 16 percent from current emissions. In order to do this, Obama wants to impose a cap-and-auction system that would ration the amount of greenhouse gases that businesses would be allowed to emit. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who opposes carbon emissions limits, has dubbed Obama's proposal a "cap-and-tax" scheme. Each year, under Obama's plan, the feds would set the number of tons of greenhouse gases that could be emitted and then auction that number of permits to the companies and organizations that need to emit them. Thus the auction functions as a variable tax on carbon.

Besides raising revenue for the government, the goal of such a rationing scheme is to increase the price of energy produced by burning fossil fuels, thus spuring the development of low-carbon and no-carbon energy supplies. At his press conference introducing his new Green Team, Obama promised to address the "long-term threat of climate change" with "a 21st-century economic recovery plan that puts Americans to work building wind farms, solar panels, and fuel-efficient cars." But will the Obama administration be ready to cut a deal on a new global climate change treaty at Copenhagen one year from now?

Some political progressives don't think so. For example, Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told the Associated Press, "The U.S. won't be in a position to negotiate with specific targets and timetables in 2009." Why? Because she thinks that the new Obama administration won't have time to finish domestic climate change legislation by next December. In addition, Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted at his ClimateProgress blog, "It is all but inconceivable that Obama can deliver the 67 votes in the Senate needed to ratify a global climate treaty—no matter what happens in the 12 months between Poznań and Copenhagen."

Inconceivable? Well, yes. As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Obama's emissary at the Poznań talks, explained to Reuters, "What's important is that we go to Copenhagen understanding that no treaty is going to pass the U.S. Senate unless it is a global solution. China, India, Russia—all countries have to be part of the solution." The big, rapidly growing developing countries must make some kind of commitment to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions, or it's a no-go in the U.S. Senate. On Monday, President-elect Obama also stated, "Just as we work to reduce our own emissions, we must forge international solutions to ensure that every nation is doing its part." Recall that back in 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 95 to 0 for a resolution opposing any global warming treaty that did not include emissions reduction commitments from developing countries. As a result, President Bill Clinton never bothered to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for ratification.

President-elect Obama and his Green Team have their work cut out for them if they plan to meet the Copenhagen deadline. They must persuade not just American citizens but citizens of both rich and poor countries that they will have to start paying substantially more to heat and cool their homes, drive their cars, and run their factories in order to avert the indeterminate threat of man-made global warming.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
2691  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Constitution as a Redistributive Obstacle on: December 17, 2008, 05:53:52 PM
Paul Moreno
Obama and the "Second Bill of Rights"

Have we given up not just the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence as well? An Obama presidency, with an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, could go a long way toward the completion of a European-style social welfare state that was begun in the New Deal.

In a 2001 interview on Chicago public radio, Obama lamented that “the Supreme Court never ventured into the issue of the redistribution of wealth.” The problem, he said, was that the court “didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution… that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberty.”

In this perhaps unguarded moment, Obama became one of the few liberal politicians candid enough to admit that the Constitution poses a fundamental obstacle to their agenda.

This is a popular theory in academic circles. It is the fundamental argument of Cass Sunstein, a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School (now on his way to Harvard), who is often mentioned as an Obama adviser and potential Supreme Court nominee, and the author of The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We need it More than Ever.

The second bill of rights idea derived from two famous speeches that Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave—one at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club during the 1932 campaign and his 1944 annual message to Congress. In the Commonwealth Club address, he spoke of the advent of “enlightened administration,” which would redistribute resources in accordance with an “economic declaration of rights.” In his 1944 message to Congress, Roosevelt said that “our rights to life and liberty”—the negative liberty to which Obama referred, had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” He claimed that “In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights.” This bill of rights included the right to a job, the right to food and recreation, the right to adequate farm prices, the right to a decent home, the right to medical care, and the right to a good education.

Of course, these are not “rights” at all—not in the sense that the framers and ratifiers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution used the term--but entitlements. From the founding until the twentieth century, the American regime assumed that government’s purpose was to secure pre-existing natural rights—such life, liberty, property, or association. Everyone can exercise such rights simultaneously; nobody’s exercise of his own rights limits anyone else’s similar exercise. Your right to life or to work or to vote does not take anything away from anyone else. We can all pursue happiness at once. Entitlements, on the other hand, require someone else to provide me with the substantive good that the exercise of rights pursues. The right to work, for example, is fundamentally different from the right (entitlement) to a job; the right to marry does not entitle me to a spouse; the right to free speech does not entitle me to an audience.

The New Deal is often described as a “constitutional revolution.” In fact, it was much more than that. It involved a rejection not just of the structure and principles of the Constitution, but those of the theory of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence—that, as Jefferson put it, governments are instituted in order to secure our rights. Roosevelt envisioned not a new constitution, but a new idea of what Sunstein calls “a nation’s constitutive commitments.”

As to this problem, Sunstein says that “The best response to those who believe that the second bill of rights does not protect rights at all is just this: unembarrassed evasion.”

Roosevelt anticipated no constitutional problem for the New Deal, for “Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form.”

Of course, there were severe constitutional problems with the New Deal, and Roosevelt ended up in a nasty campaign to “pack” the Supreme Court, the political reaction to which effectively ended the New Deal.

The economic bill of rights agenda has proceeded in fits and starts ever since, under the labels Fair Deal, Great Society and, it may be, whatever slogan will attach to “spreading the wealth around.”

Obama and academic liberals lament that the Supreme Court, once under the control of liberals in the Warren years, didn’t do more to advance economic equality. And most observers think that Obama will only have the chance to replace retiring liberals with new liberals on the current Court. The larger point is that liberals won’t need the court to implement the economic bill of rights, so complete will their majority be in the political branches.

Thus the real “change” for the American people, as Obama so candidly put it, is whether we want to repeal not just the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence, in order to establish an entitlement state, or not.

2692  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Death Map on: December 17, 2008, 02:01:16 PM
A recent publication analyzes and details where you are most likely to die from a given environmental factor such as flood, heat, storm, etc. Abstract as follows:

Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States
Kevin A Borden  and Susan L Cutter

International Journal of Health Geographics 2008, 7:64doi:10.1186/1476-072X-7-64

Published:   17 December 2008
Abstract (provisional)

Studies on natural hazard mortality are most often hazard-specific (e.g. floods, earthquakes, heat), event specific (e.g. Hurricane Katrina), or lack adequate temporal or geographic coverage. This makes it difficult to assess mortality from natural hazards in any systematic way. This paper examines the spatial patterns of natural hazard mortality at the county-level for the U.S. from 1970-2004 using a combination of geographical and epidemiological methods.

Chronic everyday hazards such as severe weather (summer and winter) and heat account for the majority of natural hazard fatalities. The regions most prone to deaths from natural hazards are the South and intermountain west, but sub-regional county-level mortality patterns show more variability. There is a distinct urban/rural component to the county patterns as well as a coastal trend. Significant clusters of high mortality are in the lower Mississippi Valley, upper Great Plains, and Mountain West, with additional areas in west Texas, and the panhandle of Florida, Significant clusters of low mortality are in the Midwest and urbanized Northeast.

There is no consistent source of hazard mortality data, yet improvements in existing databases can produce quality data that can be incorporated into spatial epidemiological studies as demonstrated in this paper. It is important to view natural hazard mortality through a geographic lens so as to better inform the public living in such hazard prone areas, but more importantly to inform local emergency practitioners who must plan for and respond to disasters in their community.

Interesting graphic:

Full report with several intriguing graphics at the end:

2693  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Cashing In" on the Sharia System on: December 16, 2008, 09:08:32 PM
That right wing bastion, the BBC, weighs in on the application of Sharia law.

Some Imams 'biased against women'
By Sanjiv Buttoo
BBC Asian Network

A Muslim think tank has found some UK Imams discriminate against women when enforcing Islamic Sharia law.

Scholars at the Centre for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) interviewed 90 Muslims in London, the West Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

They found some women did not get fair hearings in forced marriage, arranged marriage and domestic violence matters.

It comes after an NHS doctor was freed in Bangladesh following claims she was being held there for a forced marriage.

Sharia law governs every aspect of a Muslim's life, and Imams or scholars give out rulings on how to live by God's wishes. Some mosques hold Sharia courts.

The CIP's international director and its report's author Dr Irfan Al-Alawi said women seeking help in situations like forced marriages often turned to Imams for a ruling on what to do.

"Our research shows that domestic violence and forced marriages seem to be the dominant problems that women are facing and seeking Sharia rulings on.

"In every case it is a male who is the defendant coming from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

"Some ladies have approached the Imams and the Imams... have encouraged the ladies to stay with their husband or with their in-laws, whereby they have a duty bound under the Sharia."

He said he knew of a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan who was tricked into marriage over the telephone with a 40-year-old man from Sheffield, who had the mental age of a four-year-old child.

"The Home Office refused to recognise the validity of the marriage but the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain accepted it," said Dr Al-Alawi.

He said Imams should be working at the heart of their communities showing leadership, but some were failing to do so.

He accused some Imams of "cashing in" on the Sharia system.

On average it may cost someone £250 to go and get an Islamic divorce, he said.

"There are Pirs [Muslim holy men] and Imams who come here from south Asia and charge people for charms, holy water... how is this helping anyone?" he asked.

"They should be putting back something useful into society."

The spotlight has been on forced marriages in recent weeks, with the introduction of new laws designed to help victims, and a high-profile case in Bangladesh.

Lawyers for trainee NHS GP Humayra Abedin, 33, from east London, said her family planned to force her into marriage after she travelled to Dhaka.

She had travelled there as she thought her mother was ill, and then was held against her will for months, they said.

Ms Abedin is due to arrive back in the UK later, after London's High Court ordered her return under the new Forced Marriage Act and the High Court in Dhaka also ruled she must be freed.

Thirty-year-old Sophiya (not her real name) from West Yorkshire, was 13 when her father arranged her marriage to a distant cousin in Pakistan.

She said that after much resistance she was forced to marry a man she did not want to, but decided to go through with it so she could get back to the UK and put her case to a local Imam.

"I saw three Imams but they all ruled that I was legally married according to the Sharia. I told them I had been forced but they said that did not change anything."

Sophiya decided to try and please her parents and her new husband and carry on, but three years later she sought an Islamic divorce.

"I met some more Imams and said that we had been separated now for nearly two years but instead of giving me guidance with my divorce, they suggested I had to go for counselling or therapy.

"I told them I had been forced and this was not Islamic, but they disagreed."

A few months later Sophyia's husband wrote and gave her the Islamic divorce she longed for.

"I went through the proper Islamic way and these men told me to go away."

Sophiya said she wants the government to send Imams back to their countries of origin if they cannot uphold the true values of the Sharia.

'Grey area'

Ishtiaq Ahmed, is a spokesperson the Council for Mosques, a Bradford-based group which represents over 90 mosques and religious schools.

"We have in Britain... Muslims from all over the world, people are practising their own cultural, their social, kind of way of life.

"We have looked into this issue on many occasions and have found that for some Imams a grey area can form where the rulings of the Sharia finish and long-held cultural practices start.

"Imams do need more training and help; we also need lots more female scholars, ulemas, to work with our communities and try and help women."

"I feel Imams are not trying to deliberately discriminate against anyone we just have to be more open in how we pass judgements so everyone is happy and understands the process."

The report is due to be published next month and will be sent to the government and agencies.

It will recommend that Imams coming to the UK from south Asia and Africa need to be vetted to ensure they have a broad knowledge of Islam and a good command of English, so they can carry out their duties in a professional and competent way.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/12/15 13:09:38 GMT
2694  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Former Location of Gang Green on: December 16, 2008, 05:02:25 PM
Relocated to Coming Cognitive Dissonance, per the request of our esteemed mod, two posts below.
2695  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Palin by Comparison on: December 16, 2008, 12:04:09 PM
Dude, what cave were you in? All the moonbats were speculating when Palin first came on the scene that Palin's son was in fact her daughter's child and that Palin faked the pregnancy to shield her daughter or somesuch.

An excerpt from one of many Daily Kos entries:

Palin's faked "pregnancy"?  Covering for teen daughter? UPDATE #2!
by Inky99

Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 02:19:42 PM PST

Okay, I just have to diary about this, although in many ways this falls into the "none of our business category". 

But it appears that Pallin's last child, a baby with Down's syndrome, may not be hers.  It may be that of her teenage daughter. 

Here's a link just to get you started:
2696  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / CARB Cools a Cold State Economy on: December 16, 2008, 11:53:47 AM
Editorial: Much pain for little gain

State air-quality regulators approve hugely expensive, intrusive anti-emissions plan
An Orange County Register editorial

The California Air Resources Board approval last week of top-down micromanagement of industries and commerce, ostensibly to rid California of global warming, is a broad intrusion into the private sector that not only will be costly, but ultimately a solution for a problem whose dimensions have been defined more by politics than science and probably doesn't even exist.

The ARB's "scoping plan" details the regulations and costs to be imposed on nearly every facet of California economic life to implement 2006's presumptuously named "Global Warming Solutions Act." It's the last thing a struggling economy needs, and the last thing a nearly bankrupt state government should be undertaking.
Not only have the Earth's temperatures subsided and even reversed in recent years, but state officials disingenuously claim their mandates and regulations will boost California's economy. They base their rosy projections on their own self-serving studies, which have been widely and authoritatively criticized.

"I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the (state's) economic analysis is terribly deficient in critical ways and should not be used by the state government or the public for the purpose of assessing the likely costs of CARB's plans," commented Robert Stavins of Harvard, one of six highly regarded reviewers commissioned by the state to critique the economic projections. All six experts were harshly critical.

The state's own independent Legislative Analyst's Office came to similar negative conclusions about the Air Resources Board's hyped economic outlook.
What is certain is the $23 billion in taxes and fees even the state concedes the plan will cost the private sector.

The mountain of rules and regulations approved by the ARB now will go through more public hearings and workshops to fine tune the details of each mandate, all of which must be in place by 2012. Some measures, such as developing a requirement for "cool" vehicle paint to lessen interior heat and thus the need for auto air-conditioning, already are under way. Others, like creation of the complex "cap-and-trade" artificial market to allow greenhouse gas emitters to pay to continue emitting, and reward companies that cut back, will take longer to finalize.

Ultimate implementation may depend on how much pain the Schwarzenegger administration is willing to inflict on the economy. Costly environmental mandates are more accepted by the private sector when times are good. Times are tough today, which means added expenses and new costs will be felt sooner and more acutely. We hope the governor shows restraint in implementing these far-reaching mandates, which he can delay up to one year at a time if he finds they would inflict economic harm. Otherwise, the consequences could be severe, and felt soon.
2697  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Carbonated Constructs? on: December 16, 2008, 10:15:16 AM
Why asset bubbles are a part of the human condition that regulation can’t cure
by Virginia Postrel
Pop Psychology

IN THESE UNCERTAIN economic times, we’d all like a guaranteed investment. Here’s one: it pays a 24-cent dividend every four weeks for 60 weeks, 15 dividends in all. Then it disappears. Unlike a bond, this security has no redemption value. It simply provides guaranteed dividends. It involves no tricky derivatives or unknown risks. And it carries absolutely no danger of default. What would you pay for it?

Before financially sophisticated readers drag out their calculators, look up interest rates, and compute the present value of those future payments, I have a confession to make. You can’t buy this security, and it doesn’t really pay dividends every four weeks. It pays every four minutes, in a computer lab, to volunteers in economic experiments.

For more than two decades, economists have been running versions of the same experiment. They take a bunch of volunteers, usually undergraduates but sometimes businesspeople or graduate students; divide them into experimental groups of roughly a dozen; give each person money and shares to trade with; and pay dividends of 24 cents at the end of each of 15 rounds, each lasting a few minutes. (Sometimes the 24 cents is a flat amount; more often there’s an equal chance of getting 0, 8, 28, or 60 cents, which averages out to 24 cents.) All participants are given the same information, but they can’t talk to one another and they interact only through their trading screens. Then the researchers watch what happens, repeating the same experiment with different small groups to get a larger picture.

The great thing about a laboratory experiment is that you can control the environment. Wall Street securities carry uncertainties—more, lately, than many people expected—but this experimental security is a sure thing. “The fundamental value is unambiguously defined,” says the economist Charles Noussair, a professor at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, who has run many of these experiments. “It’s the expected value of the future dividend stream at any given time”: 15 times 24 cents, or $3.60 at the end of the first round; 14 times 24 cents, or $3.36 at the end of the second; $3.12 at the end of the third; and so on down to zero. Participants don’t even have to do the math. They can see the total expected dividends on their computer screens.

Here, finally, is a security with security—no doubt about its true value, no hidden risks, no crazy ups and downs, no bubbles and panics. The trading price should stick close to the expected value.

At least that’s what economists would have thought before Vernon Smith, who won a 2002 Nobel Prize for developing experimental economics, first ran the test in the mid-1980s. But that’s not what happens. Again and again, in experiment after experiment, the trading price runs up way above fundamental value. Then, as the 15th round nears, it crashes. The problem doesn’t seem to be that participants are bored and fooling around. The difference between a good trading performance and a bad one is about $80 for a three-hour session, enough to motivate cash-strapped students to do their best. Besides, Noussair emphasizes, “you don’t just get random noise. You get bubbles and crashes.” Ninety percent of the time.

So much for security.

These lab results should give pause not only to people who believe in efficient markets, but also to those who think we can banish bubbles simply by curbing corruption and imposing more regulation. Asset markets, it seems, suffer from irrepressible effervescence. Bubbles happen, even in the most controlled conditions.

Experimental bubbles are particularly surprising because in laboratory markets that mimic the production of goods and services, prices rise and fall as economic theory predicts, reaching a neat equilibrium where supply meets demand. But like real-world purchasers of haircuts or refrigerators, buyers in those markets need to know only how much they themselves value the good. If the price is less than the value to you, you buy. If not, you don’t, and vice versa for sellers.

Financial assets, whether in the lab or the real world, are trickier to judge: Can I flip this security to a buyer who will pay more than I think it’s worth? In an experimental market, where the value of the security is clearly specified, “worth” shouldn’t vary with taste, cash needs, or risk calculations. Based on future dividends, you know for sure that the security’s current value is, say, $3.12. But—here’s the wrinkle—you don’t know that I’m as savvy as you are. Maybe I’m confused. Even if I’m not, you don’t know whether I know that you know it’s worth $3.12. Besides, as long as a clueless greater fool who might pay $3.50 is out there, we smart people may decide to pay $3.25 in the hope of making a profit. It doesn’t matter that we know the security is worth $3.12. For the price to track the fundamental value, says Noussair, “everybody has to know that everybody knows that everybody is rational.” That’s rarely the case. Rather, “if you put people in asset markets, the first thing they do is not try to figure out the fundamental value. They try to buy low and sell high.” That speculation creates a bubble.

In fact, the people who make the most money in these experiments aren’t the ones who stick to fundamentals. They’re the speculators who buy a lot at the beginning and sell midway through, taking advantage of “momentum traders” who jump in when the market is going up, don’t sell until it’s going down, and wind up with the least money at the end. (“I have a lot of relatives and friends who are momentum traders,” comments Noussair.) Bubbles start to pop when the momentum traders run out of money and can no longer push prices up.

But people do learn. By the third time the same group goes through a 15-round market, the bubble usually disappears. Everybody knows what the security is worth and realizes that everybody else knows the same thing. Or at least that’s what economists assumed was happening. But work that Noussair and his co-authors published in the December 2007 American Economic Review suggests that traders don’t reason that way.

In this version of the experiment, participants took part in the 15-round market four times in a row. Before each session, the researchers asked the traders what they thought would happen to prices. The first time, participants didn’t expect a bubble, but in later markets they did. With each successive session, however, they predicted that the bubble would peak later and reach a higher price than it actually did. Expecting the future to look like the past, they traded accordingly, selling earlier and at lower prices than in the previous session, hoping to realize a profit before the bubble burst. Those trades, of course, changed the market pattern. Prices were lower, and they peaked closer to the beginning of the session. By the fourth round, the price stuck close to the security’s fundamental value—not because traders were going for the rational price but because they were trying to avoid getting caught in a bubble.

“Prices converge toward fundamentals ahead of beliefs,” the economists conclude. Traders literally learn from experience, basing their expectations and behavior not on logical inference but on what has happened in the past. After enough rounds, markets work their way toward a stable price.

If experience eliminates bubbles in the lab, you might expect that more-experienced traders in the real world (or what experimental economists prefer to call “field markets”) would produce fewer financial crises. When asset markets run into trouble, maybe it’s because there are too many newbies: all those dot-com day traders, 20-something house flippers, and newly minted M.B.A.s. As Alan Greenspan told Congress in October, “It was the failure to properly price such risky assets that precipitated the crisis.” People didn’t know what they were doing. What markets need are more old hands.

Alas, once again the situation is not so simple. Even experienced traders can make big mistakes when conditions change. In research published in the June 2008 American Economic Review, Vernon Smith and his collaborators first ran the standard experiment, putting groups through the 15-round market twice. Then the researchers changed three conditions: they mixed up the groups, so participants weren’t trading with familiar faces; they increased the range of possible dividends, replacing four possible outcomes (0, 8, 28, or 60) averaging 24, with five (0, 1, 8, 28, 98) averaging 27; finally, they doubled the amount of cash and halved the number of shares in the market. The participants then completed a third round. These changes were based on previous research showing that more cash and bigger dividend spreads exacerbate bubbles.

Sure enough, under the new conditions, the experienced traders generated a bubble just as big as if they’d never been in the lab. It didn’t last quite as long, however, or involve as much volume. “Participants seem to be tacitly aware that there will be a crash,” the economists write, “and consequently exit from the market (sell) earlier, causing the crash to start earlier.” Even so, the price peaks far above the fundamental value. “Bubbles,” the economists conclude, “are the funny and unpredictable phenomena that happen on the way to the ‘rational’ predicted equilibrium if the environment is held constant long enough.”

For those of us who invest our money outside the lab, this research carries two implications.

First, beware of markets with too much cash chasing too few good deals. When the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates, it effectively frees up more cash to buy financial instruments. When lenders lower down-payment requirements, they do the same for the housing market. All that cash encourages investment mistakes.

Second, big changes can turn even experienced traders into ignorant novices. Those changes could be the rise of new industries like the dot-coms of the 1990s or new derivative securities created by slicing up and repackaging mortgages. I asked the Caltech economist Charles Plott, one of the pioneers of experimental economics, whether the recent financial crisis might have come from this kind of inexperience. “I think that’s a good thesis,” he said. With so many new instruments, “it could be that the inexperienced heads are not people but the organizations themselves. The organizations haven’t learned how to deal with the risk or identify the risk or understand the risk.”

Here the bubble experiments meet up with another large body of experimental research, first developed by Plott and his collaborators. This work explores how speculative markets can pool information from lots of people (“the wisdom of crowds”) and arrive at accurate predictions—for example, who’s going to win the presidency or the World Series. These markets work, Plott explains, because people with good information rush in early, leading prices to reflect what they know and setting a trajectory that others follow. “It’s a kind of cascade, a good cascade, just what should happen,” he says. But sometimes the process “can go bananas” and create a bubble, usually when good information is scarce and people follow leaders who don’t in fact know much.

That may be what happened on Wall Street, Plott suggests. “Now we have new instruments. We have ‘leaders,’ who one would ordinarily think know something, getting in there very aggressively and everybody cuing on them—as they have done in the past, and as markets should. But in this case, there might be a bubble.” And when you have a bubble, you will get a crash.

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2698  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sauce for the Gadflies on: December 16, 2008, 07:59:27 AM
I always use the "if the shoe was on the other foot" test. If a conservative Republican had such a hard to document via primary sources, single parent, international childhood, do you think those on the left would be raising a hue and cry. Don't forget the claims of Palin's fake pregnancy. . . .
2699  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brits Backing Down? on: December 16, 2008, 07:42:13 AM
December 16, 2008
US accuses Britain over military failings in Afghanistan

Allegations that British troops in Helmand are snide, underequipped and often need rescuing have soured relations

Tom Baldwin in Washington and Michael Evans, Defence Editor

The performance of Britain’s overstretched military in Afghanistan is coming under sustained criticism from the Pentagon and US analysts even as Gordon Brown ponders whether to send in further reinforcements.

Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary who has been asked to remain in his job under Barack Obama, is understood to have expressed strong reservations about counterinsurgency operations in British-controlled Helmand province.

He has already announced plans for a surge of 20,000 US troops into Afghanistan but Mr Brown, who was given a bleak progress report when he visited Afghanistan at the weekend, is said to be reluctant about committing another 2,000 British troops on top of the 8,400 already there.

A total of 132 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and the Government is worried about public opinion turning against the campaign. British officials are concerned that the US may take over control of Helmand – where Mr Gates plans to deploy an extra 5,000 troops – if Mr Brown fails to support the surge. The Americans have grievances over Britain’s lack of equipment, including helicopters, which has left troops unable to perform the same tasks as US counterparts and led to more cautious tactics. There is also grumbling about the regularity with which US airstrikes are called to rescue British troops.

Drivers supplying Nato troops go on strike

Brown poised to reject Obama's surge plans

General James Jones, who has been picked at Mr Obama’s National Security Adviser, co-chaired a bipartisan panel this year which cautioned that Afghanistan was close to becoming a failed state and called for better coordination among Nato forces.

It is understood that there has been “tension and resentment” over the air of superiority adopted by British commanders such as Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who suggested that his American counterparts needed to take lessons from Britain’s experience in Northern Ireland and Malaya.

David Kilcullen, an adviser to the US State Department, told a recent seminar that there had been “lots of fairly snide criticism” from the British whose attitude had been: “Look at us, we’re on the street in our soft caps and everyone loves us.”

He added that such claims had been undercut by the performance since then. “It would be fair to say that in 2006 the British Army was defeated in the field in southern Iraq.” At the same event, Daniel Marston, an American consultant who until recently was a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and has been embedded with troops in Afghanistan, said that Britain was being forced to learn some humility after being “embarrassed by their performance”.

Mr Brown hinted at some of his doubts when he told reporters in Kabul: “We are the second largest force in Afghanistan and we will expect as part of the burden-sharing that other countries will do more.” Senior diplomatic sources say there is also frustration in Britain’s military over the lack of a coherent mission statement for the Nato forces in Afghanistan. This has led to problems with US forces sometimes wrecking carefully nurtured community relations in their pursuit of al-Qaeda.

Carter Malkesian, an expert at the Centre of Naval Analysis, said: “Among those in the Department of Defence who are paying attention to these operations, Britain’s reputation has probably fallen. But they still recognise that the British Army, among all the allies, are those that fight the most and fight the best.”

A British officer in Afghanistan expressed surprise at the criticism from the US. “They have few enough allies who will actually do any fighting,” he told The Times.

“It may be that our lay-down is presented as one brigade – when in fact it is far larger – and those away from the coal face simply do not realise the scale of what we do.”

A senior British defence source said: “We are punching above our weight in Afghanistan and are the second biggest contributor of all the Nato allies, so for anyone to single us out for criticism is plainly wrong and unfair.”

Yesterday it emerged that the Ministry of Defence expects its budget for Afghanistan to rise by more than 50 per cent next year from £1.51 billion in the financial year to £2.32 billion.

— A soldier with 29 Commando Royal Artillery became the 133rd British serviceman to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001, the Ministry of Defence said. The soldier was at a Forward Operating Base in the Gereshk area of Helmand province when he was wounded by enemy fire. He was taken by helicopter to the military hospital at Kandahar but died later of his wounds. His family has been informed. The death comes three days after four Royal Marines died in two separate explosions in the Sangin area of Helmand. Three were killed by a 13-year-old suspected suicide bomber.
2700  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Blinded by the Dark on: December 15, 2008, 02:56:25 PM
It annoys me to no end that sundry federal factotums have regulated away our ability to decide what size toilet tank we buy, or how much water our showers can push, as they work on how large and safe our cars can be, and so on. Now we are about to have standard light bulbs regulated out of existence, while their more expensive replacements don't live up to the hype, as this report makes clear.

Lights Out for Thomas Edison

Brief Analysis

No. 637

December 10, 2008

Read Article as PDF | Get Adobe Reader

by H. Sterling Burnett and Amanda Berg

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will soon ban the most common light bulbs in the United States.  New efficiency standards will require manufacturers to produce incandescent bulbs that use less energy per unit of light produced, starting with 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012, down to 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

Under the new standards:

100-watt light bulbs are banned entirely.
70-watt light bulbs will have to be 36 percent to 136 percent more efficient.
50-watt bulbs must be 50 percent to 112 percent more efficient.
40-watt bulbs will have to improve 50 percent to 110 percent.

Incandescent bulbs cannot meet these new standards absent a significant technological breakthrough.  Thus, the common light bulb will soon be extinct.

Illuminating Efficiency.  The alternative for most household uses will be compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) designed to fit standard incandescent bulb bases.  CFLs currently make up only 5 percent of the light bulb market.  They have been touted for years as the smart choice for consumers interested in reducing their energy bills, due to their extended lifespan and low energy use vis-à-vis the equivalent light output from an incandescent.  For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb produces 850 lumens — the same light output as a 13-watt to 18-watt CFL.   Unfortunately, except under a fairly narrow range of circumstances, CFLs are less efficient than advertised.  Manufacturers claim the average life span of a CFL bulb is 10,000 hours.  However, in many applications the life and energy savings of a CFL are significantly lower:

CFLs must be left on for at least 15 minutes or used for several hours per day to achieve their full energy saving benefits, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Applications in which lighting is used only briefly (such as closets, bathrooms, motion detectors and so forth) will cause CFL bulbs to burn out as quickly as regular incandescent bulbs.

CFLs often become dimmer over time — a study of U.S. Department of Energy “Energy Star” products found that after 40 percent of their rated service life, one-fourth of tested CFLs no longer produced the full amount of light.

At about $3 per bulb, CFLs are expensive, whereas incandescent bulbs cost only 20 cents per bulb, on average.  And there are other drawbacks.  For instance:

When initially switched on, CFLs may provide as little as 50 percent to 80 percent of their rated light output and can take up to three minutes to reach full brightness.
CFLs often don’t fit existing light fixtures, such as small-base lamps and candlelabras, so these will have to be replaced.
Standard CFLs will not operate at low temperatures, making them unsuitable for outdoor lighting.
CFLs can emit an annoying buzz.

CFLs emit infrared light that can interfere with remote-controlled devices, such as televisions, video games and stereo equipment.
CFLs are simply unsuited for many common uses. The new law therefore excludes whole classes of light bulbs from the standards, including appliance light bulbs (ovens and refrigerators), flashing and colored lights, traffic signals, shatter-resistant bulbs, three-way adjustable bulbs and so forth.

Hidden Dangers of CFLs.  CFLs contain potentially toxic mercury.  Thus, there are health and environmental concerns regarding their proper disposal.  Shattered CFLs in municipal landfills have the potential to leach mercury into the soil.  Over time this mercury could seep into the groundwater or nearby streams.  For this reason, a number of states and localities have outlawed disposing CFLs with normal trash — instead, consumers must take their used CFLs to authorized hazardous waste disposal sites.

The EPA recommends recycling CFLs.  However, curbside recycling is not available everywhere and often doesn’t include CFLs.  Recycling facilities that accept CFLs are not common within major metropolitan areas, much less in rural areas where on-site incineration or trenches are often used — both of which release mercury into the atmosphere.
Perhaps even more important is the danger of broken CFLs in the home. The EPA has provided detailed guidelines to avoid unsafe indoor mercury levels [see the sidebar].

Cleaning up mercury from a shattered CFL can be costly.  For example, when a CFL broke in her daughter’s bedroom, Brandy Bridges of Prospect, Maine, called on the state’s  Department of Environmental Protection to make sure she cleaned up the broken glass and mercury powder safely.  A specialist found unsafe levels of mercury in the air and recommended an environmental cleanup firm, who estimated the clean up cost of at $2,000.  Beause her mother was unable to pay the exorbitant cleaning bill, the girl’s room remained sealed off in plastic for more than a month.

Conclusion.  Consumers consider many factors in addition to energy efficiency when they purchase light bulbs.  The ban on incandescent bulbs will be costly and potentially dangerous.  The public has not yet embraced CFLs, and the government should not impose on consumers its preferences regarding the types of lights used in the home.  As the deficiencies of CFLs become more apparent with widespread use, perhaps Congress will let consumers decide.
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