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Friday, December 31, 2004

A Better Year To Come

I can't stop thinking about the tsunami disaster. On NPR yesterday they had an interview with a restaurant owner in one of the affected areas. He was complaining that they had not been warned, and said that they weren't the first to be hit, so the government should have known. I keep hearing and reading that perhaps some of the areas weren't warned because of concerns that it would harm the tourist industry. I hope not. The numbers of dead are just staggering.

In one of his recent posts Tom Carter ended with the confidence that the UN organizations on the ground would do a good job, but wondered whether the UN leadership would:
Finally, this is a good opportunity for the UN to show that it's more than an inefficient, corrupt, bloated bureaucracy. Mr. Egeland began badly, making a fool of himself by calling "stingy" the handful of countries that makes the UN's continued existence possible. I have no doubt that UN organizations in the field, such as WFP and UNHCR, will do a good job. Will their bosses in the New York bureaucracy do as well?
Tom has a history of working with these organizations, so he should know. All I can say is that the sheer suddenness and magnitude of such a disaster points to the continued need for some organization like the UN, which should be able to coordinate the relief efforts. They say it's best just to give money to relief organizations, so that they can buy or hire whatever they need for emergencies. Apparently some areas are so devastated that it's hard to get the aid into the area, so you would think naval ships and helicopters and the like would be needed as well. It sounds like a logistics nightmare to me, and one that requires some military type capabilities for an effective response. This article referred to military participation and political difficulties that an umbrella organization like the UN ought to be able to best handle:
On India's Andoman and Nicobar islands, survivors were desperate for food and water, with still little aid reaching them six days after the disaster. Foreigners are banned from the archipelago because of its large air force post, and India has not given permission for international aid groups to deliver help.

"There is nothing to eat there. There is no water. In a couple of days, people will start dying of hunger," said Anup Ghatak, a utilities contractor from Campbell Bay island, as he was being evacuated to Port Blair, capital of the archipelago.
It seems to me that this is a test for the world. We can all talk about abstract concepts of fellowship and compassion, but do we have the mechanisms we need to put such principles to work in a crisis like this? And if not, then why not? And do we care enough about people to create them if we don't? It is encouraging that private donations have been so high, but I wonder if those donations can really be effective for those in desperate need now unless the agencies can get supplies on the ground where necessary? This article suggests that all the relief efforts may not be well-directed.

It would be rather tragic if the whole effort ended up being politicized. I don't know what to make of this article in the Scotsman complaining about the coalition between the US, Japan, Australia and India to try to coordinate aid efforts:
But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.
Tom is sounding rather prophetic at the moment. Here is an AP listing of organizations to which we can donate. I certainly hope this next year will be a less politically dysfunctional one abroad as well as in the US. Certainly the victims of this disaster should not become further victims of stupidity or politics.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Iowahawk reigns supreme

Prepare to laugh until you feel ill - Iowahawk is covering the latest environmental consensus on tsunamis in his news briefs:
Washington, DC - Pointing to the devastating weekend Indian Ocean tsunami that left over 24,000 dead, an international blue ribbon committee of climatologists and ecoscientists today issued a stark warning that man-made pollutants have increasingly "make water spirits angry."

The blunt conclusion prefaced a 2300 page meta-analysis of hundreds of scientific studies and computer models detailing links between human industrial activity and wrathful eco-deities. Entitled "Fire Bad: Fire Very Bad," the report warns that the planet faces additional catastrophies unless drastic regulatory action is taken to appease Earthen-furies.
Perhaps you feel this is unfair? Felis of Vox Felisi left me this link to a post on the tsunamis and the dire preview of the effects of global warming they represented. Professor Juan Cole's post is riddled with the type of artful confusion (in his case, possibly quite sincere) between reality and fantasy that so characterizes this wing of the environmentalist movement:
This particular tsunami was caused by an earthquake and was unrelated to climate change(emphasis added).

Since some readers have been confused by skimming, let me repeat this sentence: This particular tsunami was caused by an earthquake and was unrelated to climate change.

But everyone should realize that global warming contributes to extreme weather events, causing more hurricanes and typhoons and stronger ones.

Even in the year 2004 extreme weather events caused on the order of $100 billion in damage-- an unprecedentedly high figure and one due to rise.
Professor, there is a reason why we study science under scientists and not historians. Take, for instance, the implications of the words "this particular tsunami". That appears to imply that we will face others caused by global warming. Possibly when the arctic ice cap melts and giant glaciers topple into the sea? Can you explicate, Professor? Any time frame on that?

And then there's the "known fact" that "global warming contributes to extreme weather events", which Professor Cole helpfully joins to the extreme weather events in 2004. Any idiot can draw the obvious conclusion that extreme weather events caused by global warming are here, and inflicting unprecedented damage. Such an idiot would not raise himself out of the idiot category by this deduction.

That "fact" is derived from theoretical models that have not yet been verified by observation. In other words, that is not a fact and not even a theory by scientific standards. Actual data on severity of storms has not yet shown a correlation between the small rise in temperature and an increase in storm severity. The observed extent of human-caused global warming generated by a rise in greenhouse gases is a raging scientific controversy, because most models don't match the observations. Go look at this graph showing the last 1000 years of temperature variation, and note the flatness of the curve in the latter half of the 20th century. This doesn't look like a very strong correlation between CO2 content in the atmosphere and a rise in temperatures, does it?

Here is a graph of the increase of CO2. It looks ominous, but seems to have no correlation to the actual rise in temperatures you saw in the previous 1000 year graph. Here is another, more detailed, graph of recent temperatures in the US. Once again, no correlation. Perhaps there has not yet been time for the effects of CO2 increase to be felt, or perhaps other perturbations in climate drivers are overriding the effects of the CO2 increases in the atmosphere. Scientifically we don't know what's happening. Recent data of surface and trophospheric temperatures tends to show faint traces of chilling, not warming.

Studies of ice core samples in the last several years have shown that CO2 increases in the atmosphere following exits from Ice Ages instead of preceding the temperature increases. There are various theories about why and how, but no consensus as yet. Scientists have yet to figure out why our historically high CO2 levels in the atmosphere have not caused more global warming. That's the real scientific controversy. Our climate models don't yet correlate with the past or with the present. So far, the best correlations appear to derive from orbital forcing.

Here's another hypothesis, relating to deep core convection (causing ocean heating, thus increasing CO2, etc). {Kender, check this guy's other pages out, particularly the debunking creationism one.} Orbital changes could be causing core convection changes, so these models don't necessarily conflict. The second explains better the lag in CO2 rise and a few suggestive samples indicating deepwater heating not explained by solar or atmospheric effects. This page by the same skeptical biologist contains an excellent brief explanation of problems with the CO2 as main driver theory, which has been substantially scientifically disproven already.

Here's another such page, discussing the Law Dome ice core CO2 concentrations that showed a rise after 1750 (as we came out of the Little Ice Age) , but before significant fossil fuel contributions. There seems to be some sort of scientific consensus that humans only account for about 3% of CO2 in the atmosphere, so how can the huge rise in CO2 be attributed to fossil fuels? I have not been able to find any explanation of how we could have accounted for the bulk of it.

My personal belief, btw, is that man's activity is accounting for some of the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases. I suspect that we are having some effect on the earth's climate. I support scientific research into past and present climate, but I also suspect from looking at the flat temperature curve of the 20th century that we are about to experience slow cooling over the next four decades due to other factors in the very complex climate equation. That doesn't mean that underlying atmospheric changes caused by man won't tend to increase temperatures long term, or that we should not be concerned about such effects.

Part of the problem with the junk science being promulgated about the environment is that the public is likely to observe cooling in the next few decades and dismiss the entire field of scientific investigation as nonsensical, when actually it is merely the media's discussion of it which is nonsensical. Remember, you can generate any type of graph you want showing either global cooling or global warming just by picking your starting and ending points carefully. The same is true for any naturally fluctuating system. For instance, I could do a beautiful graph showing an alarming descent into an ice age simply by graphing temperatures from August to December.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Every American should read this post

I seem to be having a day of delight with dogs and cats. Dingo defends the constitution. Seriously, this is great stuff. Dingo argues against the idea that those practicing a certain religion should be placed under special scrutiny:
You are quite wrong. It is not about the security of our country. It is caving into fear. It is about giving up our freedom. It is about letting the terrorist win. It is about trampling on the Bill of Rights. It is about disrespecting every person who has ever died in defense of our nation. It is about forgetting our foundations and who we are. Why would you want to live in a police state where Freedom of Religion is no longer respected?
From an earlier post:
When you give away the freedoms of another American so you can feel safer, you give up being an American because you have given away her soul.
Making no law to "establish" religion means that Congress can make no law to proscribe religion either. It's all or nothing, folks. The responsibility and insecurity is ours. We defend our inheritance, or lose it.

Given all the stories I grew up hearing of what happens in police states, I'm playing "defense". Let me ask all the thinking people out there about those Muslims who have been arrested for playing paintball and the like - three years later, where is the news of huge conspiratorial Muslim rings operating within the US? Most Muslims are here in America for the opportunities America holds - here because they want to be, and they want to live here, not die here.

The guys who crashed the plane were outsiders who had been inculcated in a very small, deviant Muslim group. It is enough to deal with people who attempt to commit crimes or conspire to commit crimes or commit crimes. We need to leave religion out of it.

It's reasonable to require a license and a driver's test to drive, but it isn't really reasonable to go out and decide that some people are "irresponsible" based on their philosophy and therefore shouldn't be allowed to drive even though they passed the test, meet licensing requirements, and have caused no accidents. A government that seeks absolutes of any sort - whether absolute physical security, absolute freedom from want, or absolute freedom from impurity - is an invasive, dangerous government.

Mike beats up

church-going hypocrites, Rush Limbaugh, and lefty hypocrites in one post. You've got to love a blogger who does that.

Ferdinand The Sage...

is located at the Conservative Cat. I have rarely enjoyed a blog post more than this one, discussing strange human superstitions such as that of the concept of a benevolent Mother Nature. Ferdinand is becoming alarmed that the human addiction to this sort of mental nonsense threatens his supply of mozarella cheese, and like any rational feline he protests:
The idea that nature is delicate has its roots in the book of Genesis, which states that God created Earth according to an intelligent design and threw mankind into it. This belief was confirmed by ecological disasters in places like Australia. It seemed as if nature was too complex for man to understand, and therefore any change could tip the balance and destroy it. This understanding is the entire basis for the Endangered Species Act.

The idea that we're a giant accident has its roots in the Theory of Evolution and the associated fossil record. Scientists believe that long before man appeared, Earth was subjected to periodic climate changes and natural disasters that changed the mix of species living on the Earth. Each catastrophe killed the species who couldn't adapt, allowing new species to appear. The problem we face now is that we really don't want homo sapiens to be replaced by some new species that might not keep pets or manufacture mozzarella cheese.
As SC&A observes, stupidity reigns about what should be such common scientific concepts, and maybe we should look at the deficits of our social studies programs. It sure sounds to me as if Crystal knew what she was talking about. Given what I'm reading, maybe we'd better get right back to educating students on basics of the scientific method! Mother Nature's reign is quite tyrannical enough, and I don't want to add the burden of stupidity to it.

Kender feels we should at least get some entertainment value from the spectacle and helps out by gleefully explicating the cause of the tsunami:
It was a test by the extreme right-wing, war mongering, capitalistic christian-created industrial war machine, led by Bush, Cheney and an un-named co-conspiritor possibly running a major American corporation, using a secret, yet banned, space-based weapon of mass destruction, that was secretly funded by food-for-oil profits funneled into daddy Bushs' bank account, that causes earthquakes to make sure it works before they recall all our troops and use it in the middle east and france for good measure.
This is a pretty accurate summary of some of the theories I've been reading on Democratic Underground. There is currently quite a war between science, ordered thinking, and wild-eyed conspiracy theorists raging over there. I don't think either the right or the left can lay claim to be the rightful custodian of science and rationality, and I'm glad many posters on DU are fighting against the rising tide of nonsense such as this, which begins with the somewhat mangled question:
Anyone else agree that Global Warming could be attributed to the disasters?
Not surprisingly, many do (reverse subject and noun above), and one DU poster responds with a grand mulilateral vision worthy of being fully quoted. I have tested it on several human subjects, and Bro #1ended up hanging on to the table as he laughed his guts out, while my unsuspecting mother came to near disaster in the kitchen as she was felled by hysterics. (This warning forms the basis for my legal disclaimer of all liability for any damages resulting from your continued reading of this post):
Kyoto is not enough - Thank you for your stand, but Bush seems to be intent on denying reality no matter the cost.
The truth is the change is happening faster than our ability to monitor. We have just the barest understanding of the intricate factors that make our habitable environment possible. Even for when it was introduced Kyoto had been watered down and destroyed by the participation of politicians adding job and economic factors into the equation - and for our current situation even its original stipulations are too little too late.
(Note the "earth in fragile balance" conception that Ferdinand was explaining above. As the poster seems to understand, Kyoto was going to do almost nothing to change the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it was going to accomplish almost nothing at a huge cost. The conclusion the poster did not draw was that thus the Kyoto treaty made no sense. Trying to do even more would, at this stage, doom a large part of the human population to death by famine, and so is not an attractive proposition for the great bulk of humanity. It is difficult to explain to some hard-headed people why we should starve a quarter of the world's population in order to fend off casualties from global warming.)
Besides your many examples, we have had tornadoes of fire race across central California. Just this year unexpected windstorms of hurricane force closed Tokyo and Paris. Christmas travelers were trapped in frozen highways all across America.
(Yup. I myself take every winter and every snowstorm as a dire warning of global warming. Also windstorms and hurricanes, such as the one considered the worst ever to hit the US - the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. Also brush fires. Summers, now, are clear indications of the ice age, so I spend each year in a wild swing between the terror of opposite disasters. Life on the cutting edge of environmental thought is nothing if not alarming.)
This whole process has in it an event horizon. We don't know where or when it is, and we don't know what's on the other side. We could already have crossed an critical boundary. If not, it will take radical global cooperation to merely slow the deterioration.
(Yeeeees? I await your proposal as to how to accomplish this radical global cooperation... Define event horizon, wouldja? Just to make mama happy.)
Who has the power to force such cooperation? Only the office of the President of the United States has enough military and economic power to build a cooperative multinational solution. I do not believe our current president has the interest, will or talent to do what is necessary.
Tada!!!!! Why didn't I think of that? We'll just invade the world and make them all stop being bad!!!! That's how to solve these knotty problems! This is clearly deLespinasse-type problem-solving, and I do feel so good about the fact that we have "enough military and economic power" to enforce such a "cooperative multinational solution". Hey, this type of globalism sounds a lot like passages from Mein Kampf, and surprisingly like Bush's plan to fight terrorism! Who'da thunk you could have so much tyrannical fun forcing the world to save itself?

An individual calling himself Jackson4Gore responds to the above post with a simple yet presumably heartfelt:
Yep, you are exactly right!
A later poster, apparently struggling to communicate, tries facts:
One of the most powerful earthquakes was the 1811-12 New Madrid quake, long before global warming and even before the area was very heavily populated. Since then, that area has become quite polluted and heavily populated but so far at least, no recurrence. Please explain.
Clearly this last poster has been infected with the materialistic Western capitalist anti-environment doctrine of the scientific method, which in part maintains:
The final step of the scientific method is to rigorously test your prediction. Remember, you cannot "prove" your hypothesis. You can only fail to disprove it. While this is an example of how the scientific method is used in everyday research and hypothesis testing, it is also the basis of creating theories and laws.

The scientific method requires a hypothesis to be eliminated if experiments repeatedly contradict predictions. No matter how great a hypothesis sounds, it is only as good as it's ability to consistently predict experimental results. It should also be noted that a theory or hypothesis is not meaningful if it is not quantitative and testable. If a theory does not allow for predictions and experimental research to confirm these predictions, than it is not a scientific theory.

A common error encountered by people who claim to use the scientific method is a lack of testing. A hypothesis brought about by common observations or common sense does not have scientific validity. As stated above, even though a good debater may be quite convincing as he conveys the merits of his theory, logical arguments are not an acceptable replacement for experimental testing.
Another person, relying upon drama rather than reason, simply posted a picture of a person in a tinfoil hat. But sometimes pictures aren't worth a thousand words - and it seems scientific method is not even a blip on this DU person's event horizon who replied with:
All of the abuses the planet is taking is taking its toll.

You don't have to be a scientist to realize we are killing our own planet. Everything is a factor, global warming, pollution, bunker blasters, nuke testing, all of it. If you stub your toe, do you feel the pain? Everything matters & it affects the planet and its people & wildlife. When the Gulf stream and weather patterns are changing, it takes its toll in all the ways we are witnessing.
Geeze. I hardly know what to say. I like my whiskey neat, my coffee without sugar, my facts factual, and my science to be based on scientific method. I'm beginning to feel a bit like a T. Rex myself - doomed to extinction. But hey, one has to go with what one knows. Like everyone, I have been deeply distressed by the tsunamis and the loss of life they have caused.

Yet I can't help but observe that the many pundits trying to link this with climate change and/or the dropping of bombs seem far more emotionally involved with this catastrophe than with the numerically far larger death toll in Darfur over the last few years (estimated at around 300,000). Ferdinand the Conservative Cat would probably find this human oddity quite inexplicable. Now perhaps a tsunami warning system would have cut the number of deaths, and hopefully one will be instituted for the Indian Ocean as a result of this disaster. But we can't change the very nature of our world and its tectonic plates to avert other such events. All we will ever be able to do is mitigate the harm.

In contrast to the Indian Ocean quake, the Darfur catastrophe is almost entirely the result of human actions. Shouldn't we, as a species, concentrate on the things we can control rather than those we can't? I am all in favor of aid, both public and private, to the many nations struck by the tsunami. But let's not lose sight of the fact that most preventable deaths around the world have resulted from human social instability and irrationality, and the world can probably make more of a difference by concentrating its efforts and attention on disease and dysfunctionality.

I get most of my news from NPR, and they have been faithfully covering events in Darfur and the Sudan for years now. Why do such situations get so little media and world attention? Why do issues such as global warming that have so little real effect get so much attention in the press? Why is so much time and money spent on unscientific propaganda and so little time and money spent on education, research, and fixing problems that we know how to fix?

Furthermore, it makes no objective sense to warn of the economic effects of a rise in temperature of one or two degrees, yet ignore the far higher economic costs of disease and poverty. Given that we know (because we have observed it in the recent past) that our climate is highly variable, given that we know that such climate variations will have effects upon the human population whenever they occur, and given that we know we can't control such temperature swings with our current technology and lack of ability to predict such changes or understand the causation of such changes, shouldn't we study the problem of the climate, and proceed to spend the bulk of our money on developing a less poverty-stricken and thus healthier world?

Wouldn't such investments fortify the ability of the third world to survive the possible effect of rising or falling sea-levels?
We know our climate has never been static. Scientists tell us that within the last 20,000 years most of those absolutely essential rain-forests in South America were not there - the climate was too dry to support them. We know that within the last 10 thousand years the sea level rose dramatically. We are concentrating upon the very narrow of range of effects that we believe we might be able to control and ignoring the reality that we are not able to control the inherent variability in our climate, which poses the real danger. Our entire civilization has risen in a period of relative climactic stasis, and we know, based on scientific data related to tree rings, ice core testing, ocean sediment testing, pollen testing and the like that this moment of climactic peace is just that in historical time - a moment. Hadn't we better be planning to survive this moment?

The humorous aspect of debates over the possibility of bunker busting bombs causing the Sumatra quake and the tsunamis is that such suspicions are not really irrational for those who follow the news and have no further scientific education. The propositions and logic on which these people's attitudes are based are those that the press and the environmentalists have been promulgating. Admittedly, these attitudes have no scientific basis. "Nature" or the "Environment" never existed in some magical balance until we came along and disrupted it, and minor human actions really don't seem to have affected the climate much at all by historical standards. However, that is not the picture an average person who reads major newspapers and news magazines would develop. So it is truly the larger culture, rather than such individuals, which is imbalanced and irrational.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Global Warming Strikes Again?

From Raven at AndrightlySo:

At the Daily Kos, the dark suspicion that plate tectonics is due to to global warming has surfaced. My mind boggled with a fearful boggle. I know not what to say. Isn't there some psychological disorder in which one thinks one is all-powerful? Maybe Dr. Sanity knows.

Imperfect Justice

Senator Christopher Dodd makes an important point in this column in the Washington Post about the importance of preserving a free press. He points out that the number of prosecutions of reporters to force them to reveal the identities of their sources is increasing:
According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 22 reporters have received federal subpoenas this year alone, compared with an average of fewer than nine per year from 1991 to 2001(emphasis added). Reporters who have refused to reveal their sources, such as Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, face the prospect of prison time. On Dec. 9, Jim Taricani of WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., was sentenced to six months' home confinement for refusing to divulge a source.
Senator Dodd is calling for a federal law to protect reporters' ability to preserve the confidentiality of their sources. I think he makes a good point. Opponents will argue that confidentiality may be used to cloak criminality, but I think that is merely a necessary byproduct of freedom of the press. To argue the point another way, if only a reporter has knowledge of a crime from an informant, than the crime would never have been prosecuted. The only change in the situation due to the reporter's non-disclosure is that the public has more information.

Our entire justice system, as established by the Constitution and various rulings of the Supreme Court, acknowledges that to preserve justice we will sometimes let misdoers escape punishment. We should never lose sight of this fact and this underlying principle. To say that a reporter must always break confidentiality when a potential crime is being investigated means that a reporter has no right to preserve confidentiality at all. One can rest assured that some entrepeneurial prosecutor with a creative bent will almost always be able to come up with an interpretation supporting a criminal investigation if necessary.

In writing this article Senator Dodd is upholding his duties as a Senator, and I hope that many people will read his column and consider his statements. All governments will contain some corrupt officials, and will at times misuse their power. Our constitution is designed to allow the voters time to correct such corruption before it can entrench itself - but as Senator Dodd observes, these protections mean nothing if the public does not know what is transpiring:
If reporters are unable to promise confidentiality to their sources, many conscientious citizens will choose not to come forward with information out of fear for their jobs, their reputations, even their lives. The public's ability to hold those in power accountable -- whether in the government or in the private sector -- will be severely compromised. In a real sense, when the public's right to know is threatened, so are all of the other liberties we hold dear(emphasis added).
This is true. Of what value is your vote if you are deprived of information about what is really happening?


As often happens, the comments on this one are better than the original post. In particular, Dingo had previously suggested a necessary exception to the confidentiality rule. His post is here.

Monday, December 27, 2004

DU on Social Security

I found this interesting thread on Democratic Underground in which a desperate DU denizen argues that there is a problem with Social Security:
I will scream the next time I hear a Dem. claim that Social Security is not in crisis. That is one of the most out of touch talking points I have heard from them. It is honest to claim that Bush's plan is not the fix. It is an ignorant lie to claim the problem does not exist. It is simple math. Any educated American has understood for years that there is a problem with the system as it stands. To claim otherwise is silly and makes us look like fools. I have had it with politically convenient talking points. How's 'bout some truth.


p.s. before accusing me of being some sort of freeping troll bastard check out my Anti-Bush site.
The first response was:
Prove there is a crisis.
Someone else responds by explaining the real problem(emphasis added):
The political issue, though, is that the trust fund's "assets" are simply promises by the government to itself. When the system's current account goes into deficit, it won't matter what amount is then in the trust fund; there will be no way to cover the deficit except from general federal revenues. There's a good explanation of the real nature of the trust fund in this article: . (I'm a registered user at the Washington Post site; I hope that link works for those who aren't.)

Another person responds to the overwhelming cries that there is no problem with social security (emphasis added):
Just because George is a freaking idiot does not make this issue a Bush creation or a Republican scare tactic. This issue has persisted for decades as a Democratic core issue. They lost it to Bush the same way he coopted medicare drug reform. Now the Democratic leadership has decided that one of their own decades old issues never existed in the first place. Find me a quote from a democrat making the claim that Social Security is not in trouble that is more than two months old. That is what this is all about!
And yet another voice crying in the wilderness (emphasis added again):
You're right, and that's been our party's position for years, until Bush comes along and claims he can fix it. Now Dem "leaders" are claiming its not that big of a problem. Just my opinion, but this shows why we need to ditch the chessboard consultant types. Not only will they keep us in the loss column, but they also have no concept of integrity and honor. They are making us look stupid.
But still most don't want to face the real issue. The problem with Social Security is that there isn't any trust fund, as the poster at DU explained. The excess money everyone has paid in has been spent, and now exists only as Treasury bonds held by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Before 2020 we will have to start running huge deficits to pay the SSA back the funds it has given the Treasury.

No matter what your political affiliation, you should realize this is a problem - there will be somewhere around 2 taxpayers supporting each retiree. The money has to come from somewhere - and the only place it can come from is the current taxpayers. There were no budget surpluses during the Clinton administration - more cash came in than went out, but that was because of the excess social security taxes being used to fund current spending.

We can't raise payroll tax rates again. The rates are already so high that a lot of lower income taxpayers are being taxed to death, as I documented here. Real wage taxation rates of 28% are ridiculously high already for lower income workers. Here I linked to an analysis from 1997 that predicted we would have to raise taxes 40% to fund the situation. Do you want to pay that much? Will you be able to pay that much additional tax and support yourself and your family? Most people I know would not be able to live under those circumstances. Getting enough money from the really high-income workers will not be possible - there just aren't enough of them.

When pushed to the wall, many Democrats confess that their real strategy will be to remove the ceiling on Social Security wages. Well, the ceiling is already at $87,900. Remember, higher wage earners pay higher income taxes at the state and federal level as well. This used to be somewhat compensated for by the loss of the 12.40% in social security wages. Without that compensating effect, we are going to reach a situation in which higher wage earners shift their income from wages to other avenues.

Here is a table with the 2004 state income taxes. Notice that in Montana you can already pay as high as as 11%. Here is a table with the 2004 Federal income tax rates. Between 70,000 and $146,000, the rate is already 28%. Now look at what happens when all of that is also subject to Social Security tax:

For every $10,000 dollars paid to the employee, the employer pays an additional $765.00 to the treasury - so the employer pays $10,765 to the employee, and the employee receives $9,235 before income taxes. Figuring 6% state tax (relatively conservative) and 28% federal income tax on that $10,000 gives me 34% income tax or $3,400 on that $10,000.00. After income tax, the employee nets $5,835.00 dollars, or 54% of what the employer paid. That's a real payroll tax of 46%, and this is not the top tax bracket. The top federal income tax bracket is 35%.

At 35%, that's $4,100.00 or more of state and federal income taxes paid on that $10,000. So the employer pays $10,765, and the employee gets $5,135.00 or 48% of what the employer paid. We can't go much higher than this. Imagine increasing tax brackets another 40%!!! At that point the employee says forget about it, boss, and just stays at home and paints his house himself, thereby making (by saving) far more than he or she would earn by working - and your social security problem is hardly solved, is it?

The loyal Democrats protesting the current strategy of pretending there is no problem with Social Security are being realistic. Note they predict doom for the Democratic party if it continues to deny reality. I think they're right.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Most of you know that an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit off Sumatra; this is the most intense earthquake to hit in 40 years. There is no telling how high the death toll will eventually be, but it is likely to be over 10,000. Here is the earthquake bulletin page at the USGS. There seems to be massive activity all around the Pacific rim.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas 2004

I wish you the type of Christmas young children know when the excitement and anticipation fills their hearts to bursting.

I wish you the type of joy that Christmas lights seen against the darkness represent - not a denial of the dark but a perception of the beautiful moments held within that dark. If you are with family and friends this year, I hope you enjoy every beautiful moment.

If you are missing someone this year, then I hope you can remember the times when they were with you, and let the memory of those moments fill your heart with joy. We would not miss those not with us if they had not been so precious to us, and so their absence is only felt because we have been so blessed by their presence.

I have a dog who another dog of mine found out in the brush one February. She was freezing and starving, gashed up, and one leg was pretty much destroyed. The hip was dislocated, the bones were shattered and disjointed, and at one spot bent at right angles to one another. I think when my dog first found her she was close to death, because I saw him running out there to the brush with dog biscuits. I thought he was burying them for some reason. A day later we found a shaking, staggering 3 1/2 month old puppy stashed in the shed, with offerings of bones spread around her.

The Rescue Dog In Training (RDIT) found her; he had been an abused puppy himself. Chief No-Nag had picked him up at the pound, because the RDIT was going to be put down for being vicious. Needless to say, I was not happy when Chief No-Nag returned from the pound with a snarling psychotic attack puppy with medical problems who hated all females with a passion. I was still quite ill at this time, and money was short - but Chief No-Nag insisted nobody was hopeless, and the dog would be fine. I warned him that if we didn't succeed we would have to take the responsibility of having the dog put down, and that I wasn't going to have a dangerous, lightning-fast 80 lb dog around the place.

We worked with RDIT for months to try to get him to calm down, act kindly, and cooperate with the Patriarch Dog (a giant and elderly Golden Retriever) and humans instead of attacking. RDIT viewed absolutely everyone except Chief No-Nag as a threat. The RDIT wanted affection, but had a deep sense of grievance, and asked for affection by biting and snapping. Of course such a strategy is quite self-defeating, but each such defeat only reinforced his feelings of anger, grievance and isolation. So when the RDIT showed up with the puppy in tow, I could not tell him that his kind impulses were wrong. Dogs are just as sensitive to hypocrisy as people.

It was too late to have surgery done on the leg, but it we took her to Tuskegee's Veterinary School and had it pulled out and splinted. The cast was about as large as the puppy; the surgeon told us she would have very little use of the leg but he thought she would survive under heavy antibiotics. The splint had to be kept dry, so every four hours for the next five weeks one of us had to get up, bag it, and take the Brat Princess out.

After we finally took the splint off, the leg was frozen (and the hip was still out of joint). I did physical therapy on that leg several times a day for months. After about six weeks the hip snapped back in place. It was 2 1/2 months before she could put any weight on it. The Brat Princess is determined, and 18 months later she has no disability at all. She stands on her hind legs to box with Rescue Dog, runs like the wind, and leaps 5 feet straight up to get into the truck. The leg is shorter, and if you look closely you can tell it is misshapen, but most people notice nothing odd about her at all.

Rescue Dog's heart grew three sizes over the course of the Brat Princess's rehabilitation, which he followed with intense concern and empathy, wincing as she winced and whining as she whined. He is now my dog, my monitor dog. I have a neurological disease, and Rescue Dog can detect downturns in my condition weeks before they become apparent, allowing me time to head off disaster with medication and rest. The Patriarch, possibly because he always had a very low opinion of human intelligence, had evolved this medical protocol by himself after I became severely ill.

When I went blind, the Patriarch led me around. When I had seizures, the Patriarch warned me. The rest of the time, the Patriarch watched my diet and exercise closely. My autonomic nervous system was failing, so, for example, I couldn't maintain my body temperature or tell whether I needed to eat or not. And my memory was pretty much gone, so about half the time I couldn't figure out whether I had eaten or taken my medication. As far as I could figure ever figure out, the Patriarch was trying to keep me in some sort of metabolic zone he measured by smell. Some days he would make me walk a lot; some days he would hardly let me out of the house. He would bark at me to make me eat or take my medicine, and snarl and scream if I tried to lie down when he thought it was inadvisable. The Patriarch saved my life.

At the time when we got the RDIT the Patriarch was already 13 and failing, so the Patriarch was trying to teach his RDIT to take over the difficult task of taking care of Poor Stupid Staggering Two-Legs (me). The Patriarch succeeded before he had to pass the torch. The Rescue Dog has continued my rehabilitation, allowing me to return to work. I don't think we would have succeeded in making a real dog out of the psychotic puppy that RDIT was without the example of the Brat Princess, so as unlikely as it sounds, she has been an integral piece of the canine trinity largely responsible for the continued existence of this blogger.

Every once in a while the Brat Princess will lose her composure completely. Usually this occurs when I have been out walking with them and Chief No-Nag returns in the truck. She starts to run up to him to greet him as he gets out of the truck, but then veers off and circles. The circles get larger and larger, she runs faster and faster, and then she starts throwing in acrobatics. The Rescue Dog watches in wagging kindly satisfied admiration as she darts through an obstacle course of trees and bushes she has laid out for herself. She corners with extravagant speed on both legs, leaps, spins, and vaults. Eventually, panting, she comes up to the three of us and stares at us with a bemused expression, as if asking if we understand that life is wonderful.

We do. We know. We understand that sort of helpless, heart-bursting joy. We understand that every painful therapy and step she took now forms only a dark background to the brilliant exuberant light of such moments. We've had such moments ourselves. We are four hopeless cases who are doing well, and we know that as we have been rescued from hopeless situations by the undeserved and unlikely kindness of others, our job is now to continue the chain of generosity and joy by helping others.

I wish all of you a very exuberantly joyful and gleefully Merry Christmas. Every child deserves to have wonderful Christmas mornings and the experience of overwhelming joyful excitement. By creating such mornings for them we are teaching them about the reality of life no less than by enforcing rules of behavior and the need for self-discipline.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Voices In Cyberspace

Aldon Hynes over at Orient Lodge is trying to do the bipartisan-connect-the-issues dialogue thing. He has some interesting thoughts. I think Aldon is one of those people who really knows how political parties work, (check out the post on Connecticut Democratic politics, for example), and I've been trying to follow him.

I really liked Crystal Clear's recent post on wasting time in public education. Crystal Clear is a single mother of two (she got pregnant by artificial insemination) and some sort of counselor, so she has a very different sort of perspective than mine. She was protesting a day spent on ToBGLAD, not because she thinks intolerance towards Gay, Bisexual, Lesbians and Transexuals is a good thing, but because of the time it diverts from what should be the basic focus of public schooling. The post I linked to is a follow-up and has one comment that I think particularly exemplifies the nature of the debate about public schools. In part, the commenter said:

"Again, school is about ways of thinking and not just textbooks. So what if my grammar isn't perfect? Aren't these things we can learn later on in life too? Where as, having an open-mind is somethign that must be taught early on. And I highly doubt there would've been nearly as many students at ToBGLAD if we had held it on a saturday."

Let me put it this way - if you can't write a decent college admissions essay, you won't be learning grammar in college. Linguistic patterns are often set quite early in life - your ability to learn languages tends to shut down by age 8 or so, while your brain is programmed to receive that kind of information in early childhood. And then you have to pay for college, but high school is free. The commenter's attitude might sound kind, but it operates to discriminate against those who start life with less advantages.

The commenter buys the idea that the function of the public schools is essentially propaganda, rather than core education - but tolerance can be taught as a basic principle, and doesn't have to be taught group by group. What these high school students are apparently being taught is tolerance for particular groups, rather than the basic principles of tolerance - and that is fatal, IMO. And no, Aldon, the barrier to developing scientists and engineering students is not that such careers are not considered cool. The barrier is that many students are simply not prepared mentally or emotionally to study that hard and deal with the math.

Also, I have to say that while students from more privileged backgrounds may be able to afford the time for this sort of activity, there are many students who need every minute of basic academic instruction they can get in order to have the chance to get ahead in life. Students in what should be some very good schools are getting a much poorer basic education than they did when I was in high school (that was shortly after we killed off the last of the T. Rexes - we were very environmentally insensitive then), and so many "college" level courses now are what we used to take in high school. This is not a good situation, and it is highly discriminatory against lower-income, impoverished minorities, and first-generation immigrants.

My father was born in 1929 to German refugees who had just arrived in this country. Neither of his parents spoke English well when he was a young child, although they tried. He went to elementary school in the depths of the Great Depression, attending an impoverished NY rural district which was mostly first and second generation immigrants, many of whom wore rags to school. A few of the families were literally living in shacks made from metal and boards scavenged from the town dump. Yet my father and his brother and sister received a superb education and graduated from high school speaking and writing excellent, grammatical English. Both my father and his brother went on to attend college and became engineers.

Such an outcome is literally not even a possibility for the product of such a school system today, and no blather about socio-economic barriers, English as a second language and poor parenting explains the discrepancy between public schooling then and now. My father's mother was the only one who could find work (12 hours a day cleaning), so as babies they were left to the care of my grandfather, a man who literally barely spoke. He fed them and changed diapers, but that was about all the interaction they got. Those three children had what would be considered a terrible early childhood by today's standards. But they did go to a school that concentrated on education and imposed high educational standards. The difference is, quite simply, that the basic academic curriculum and standards of discipline in public schools have been watered down to an astonishing extent.

Oh, and by the way, my father turned out to be an incredibly compassionate, kind person. My father has been dead for well over a decade now, but his intellect, kindness and compassion resounds in my memory. He was incredibly sympathetic to those suffering in any way (as you might expect from his background), intensely interested in science and the world around him, and utterly unprejudiced.

There is an undercurrent of belief in many "liberal" circles today that much of the difference is genetic propensity. Nothing, in my experience, could be further from the truth. I have taken minority graduates from urban high schools and trained them in computer programming concepts and specific programming languages; several of these people had very poor language and math skills due to bad educations. The ability to think abstractly was there, but the basic education was lacking. Nonetheless, they learned well - in fact, I had better luck with them than with several Caucasion graduates from some of the best universities in the nation. The difference was that my losers were willing to work harder, so they became winners.

I found out later that the personnel officer at that company, who was black, was deliberately directing minority candidates to me because of my record in advancing them. I also found out after I left the company that there had been considerable resentment in some quarters because I was believed to be a flaming leftist due to my promotion of my loser-winners above, for instance, a white Bennington graduate. Well guess what, my black high school graduates were racking their brains to comprehend, and performed better. A computer is a completely color-blind entity that neither knows or cares about whether you have a prestigious degree.

The crappy educations my loser-winners had received were obviously not their fault, nor were their academic deficiencies a reflection of their unwillingness to learn. They had attended poor public school systems, and that was the only reason they were disadvantaged. No amount of earnest rhetoric about tolerance and the evil of prejudice could avert the real consequences in their lives. The Bennington graduate was always going to be able to do better in interviews and in any job that required the ability to write and speak well.

The problem is that opportunities such as the ones I had to offer (the company was a publishing company, and didn't hire high-priced outside talent) are few and far between. Much of the average child's destiny is set by the type of elementary education he or she receives. We have been shortchanging a lot of kids in that area ever since the 70's, and I think it is greatly impairing the ability of those from disadvantaged backgrounds to move ahead in our society. The law of life is use it or lose it. If you don't exercise your body when you are young, you will not grow up to be as strong and flexible as you could have been, and if you don't exercise your brain when you are young, you will not grow up to be as adept at problem-solving as you could have been. You can compensate later for your lack of early development, but the realities of life dictate that it gets harder and harder.

Crystal is utterly right when she comments that the most discrimination an average adult experiences is based on their ability to speak and interact with other people, and that the average business owner cares far more about an employee's ability to produce than the details of the employee's private life. I would add that the more technical professions are the least subject to discriminatory practices, because you are judged on your ability to produce - a completely objective standard. It is no accident that a lot of people with disabilities and disadvantages of different kinds turn to technical professions such as computer programming.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Don't Be A Rat

If you happen to spot Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, don't rat him out. Apparently the Feds are looking for him as detailed here. Among his other misdeeds, he's driving an unlicensed sleigh, breaking the speed limit in every state, and he's an illegal immigrant.

What goes down

...must come up. In this case, I'm referring to the global average temperature. Please go and look carefully at these two graphs. The top is the history of the earth's temperature over a million years. Note that the end of the curve goes up quite sharply. The bottom is the history of the earth's temperature over the last 10,000 years (the last part of the million year graph flattened out). Note the fluctuations. Note also that these graphs are found on a page at nasa.gov - not a right wingnut organization. This is real data.

Note also that the earth's temperature is currently coming off a recent low, known as the "Little Ice Age", and that we are still way below the average line for the last 10,000 years - that as recently as 1000 years ago, the earth's average temperature was substantially higher than the earth's average temperature today. In other words, we are still in a somewhat cold period of human history.

If you scroll down the page a bit from the two graphs, you will see a graph covering temperature changes over a 1000 years. Notice how bumpy the curve now looks, due to the higher level of detail. Notice that the low temperature point of The Little Ice Age occurred from the later 1500's through the 1600's - less than five hundred years ago. Crops were failing all over Europe, as the temperatures fell. Remember, Greenland was named because it was green when it was first settled. Now it would be more appropriately called Whiteland.

Now we look at a sample article of the way journalists report global warming stories. Most of you have probably seen the article claiming that the polar bears are terribly endangered, but do you know about the terrifying threat that global warming poses to the pika? Probably not:

"Local populations of pikas have gone extinct at more than one-third of 25 sites surveyed since the mid-1990s in the Great Basin region between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, according to the study conducted by a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey and funded by the World Wildlife Fund.

""Population by population, we're witnessing some of the first contemporary examples of global warming apparently contributing to the local extinction of an American mammal at sites across an entire eco-region," said Erik Beever, a USGS ecologist."

Please think about the awesome stupidity of what is being said here, while keeping in mind the temperature graphs you looked at above. Eight hundred years ago the average temperature was considerably warmer than it is today. Did the pika species evolve in less than 800 years? No, it did not. Neither did polar bears, for that matter. So if 800 years ago it was substantially warmer than it is today, why should we fear a temperature increase of a few degrees will push these species to extinction now?

I personally am not betting on it, and note the reference to "local populations" above. Natural temperature shifts mean that the habitats of species will shift over time without man's intervention. These breathless prophecies of disaster mean nothing scientifically. No matter what we do to nullify human effect on the climate, we will never be able to block the natural temperature oscillations of our planet's climate. It's that simple. These stories are only politically correct propaganda designed to develop a sense of superstitious urgency in the human species.

Tom Carter, a retired military officer, has an excellent post on global warming hysteria containing quotes by journalists saying that they are deliberately reporting the global warming story in a biased way. Please go read it. The uniformly excellent Coyote Blog, which is written by a business owner, has been covering the issue of climate change in considerable detail - here is one recent post you might want to read in which an environmentalist discusses the right balance between effectiveness and honesty. Many journalists and environmentalists know they are lying and distorting the truth. There are many individuals of various backgrounds who have done a cursory amount of research and have concluded that Goebbels would be proud of the efforts of our constitutionally protected press on global warming. Why does the press believe we will bow before this nonsense? Will you?

I will not. I will stick with science, and scientific method rather than propaganda. Erik Beever's statements have nothing to do with science, but a great deal to do with environmental politics. Why must the US taxpayers pay for such arrant idiocy? Why do reporters regurgitate such mindless drivel? I'm riled. They must either be totally uneducated or incredibly stupid, or believe that we are totally uneducated or incredibly stupid. Are you? I'm not. If given the data I have linked to in this post, an average sixth grader can pick out the logical fallacy here. I plan to write my Congressman and Senator in January complaining about this waste of taxpayer dollars.

I want to pay for hard science. As the first graph should have shown you, global climate shifts do pose a massive threat to the human race. We must learn what drives these shifts if we want our current culture to survive for another ten thousand years. But the danger is not imminent, and cold is more of a threat than warmth, and we have time to study the problem instead of spending money to crank out droolingly stupid unscientific propaganda. Much more of this and we can anticipate a global reduction in our average effective IQ level. That's a much more frightening prospect than pikas moving their range two hundred miles north.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

DOJ on 2nd Amendment

Here is a (found at DGCI, go thank them!) Department of Justice memorandum (dated 8/24/2004) discussing the meaning of the Second Amendment:
"As developed in the analysis below, we conclude that the Second Amendment secures a personal right of individuals, not a collective right that may only be invoked by a State or a quasi-collective right restricted to those persons who serve in organized militia units. Our conclusion is based on the Amendment's text, as commonly understood at the time of its adoption and interpreted in light of other provisions of the Constitution and the Amendment's historical antecedents. Our analysis is limited to determining whether the Amendment secures an individual, collective, or quasi-collective right. We do not consider the substance of that right, including its contours or the nature or type of governmental interests that would justify restrictions on its exercise, and nothing in this memorandum is intended to address or call into question the constitutionality, under the Second Amendment, of any particular limitations on owning, carrying, or using firearms."

I have never seen how any other interpretation was plausible, but hey, that's just me. All of the Bill Of Rights has always been interpreted to bear on individual freedoms. The only reason why this one is interpreted differently is for convenience and personal preference, not based on any historical facts. As the memorandum says:

"The Second Amendment's recognition of a "right" that belongs to "the people" indicates a right of individuals. The word "right," standing by itself in the Constitution, is clear. Although in some contexts entities other than individuals are said to have "rights," (37) the Constitution itself does not use the word "right" in this manner. Setting aside the Second Amendment, not once does the Constitution confer a "right" on any governmental entity, state or federal. Nor does it confer any "right" restricted to persons in governmental service, such as members of an organized military unit. In addition to its various references to a "right of the people" discussed below, the Constitution in the Sixth Amendment secures "right[s]" to an accused person, and in the Seventh secures a person's "right" to a jury trial in civil cases. (38) By contrast, governments, whether state or federal, have in the Constitution only "powers" or "authority." (39) It would be a marked anomaly if "right" in the Second Amendment departed from such uniform usage throughout the Constitution."

Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders.

The Perils Of Punditry

Many years ago in Moscow, there was a weather-caster named Rudolph was the most accurate on his predictions than any other weather person in history. He was always 100% accuracy rate in predicting rain was a source of great pride to the Communist party.

One day he predicted that Moscow would have such an intense rain storm that houses would be flooded and streets would wash away. Well that day came and it was absolutely perfect. All day the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Rudolph's wife told him that she thought he might actually be wrong this time. Rudolph said,"I'm not wrong, you just wait." The sun set and Rudolph's wife said, "You were wrong". Rudolph told her the day wasn't over yet.

An extremely heavy rain storm woke them both up about two hours after they had gone to bed. "See - I was right again!" said Rudolph. "Yes, you were," his wife said, "Tell me, how can you be so accurate all the time?" To which Rudolph replied, "Rudolph The Red Knows Rain, Dear."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Joking Aside, For The Moment

Back to slightly more serious subjects: Greater Democracy (an interesting blog) has a post up about political parties that really caught my eye: Are Political Parties Obsolete?

His answer is a wary no:
"Being fan of emerging self-organizing systems (for example, check out Steven Johnson’s book Emergence), my inclination might be towards moving away from political parties. The structure of parties can inhibit emergent self-organizing systems."

The whole post is interesting, and there's a lot more, so go read it. Unfortunately comments are disabled for the time being, so I'm forced to comment here. My reaction to the excerpt above was that the structure of both parties might act to preclude the development of solutions. It may be in the interest of the top echelon of party organizers to strongly separate their party from another, i.e. to develop a party "brand" by either stereotyping or even portraying the proponents of another party in a very poor light - but such strategies end up working against you as well as with you. In the end, most people who voted either way are going to come to view the most active people in such a party's leadership as slightly suspect.

The bulk of people voting Democratic aren't Satan-worshippers who want to sell out the country to its enemies and sacrifice people to save trees, and most of those voting Republican aren't religious maniacs who want to favor the interests of large companies over individuals, conquer the world and melt the icecaps either. When such babble becomes the "dogma" of a visible minority of either party, the party's own dogma ends up making itself look ridiculous. Neither party wants to destroy the environment or the economy - the debate is really about ways of protecting and supporting the health of these two systems.

The American public really admires politicians like McCain who are viewed as standing for something aside from partisanship and having independent, thoughtful voices of their own. My theory is that something like Robert's Rules Of Order, adapted to less formal political debate, might be a fruitful development. The first principle of such a formal rules system would have to be to define what you support rather than what you reject. After all, it isn't really necessary to characterize your opponent's ideas when you are speaking clearly about your own. In the end the party that develops or adopts problem-solving ideas and learns to speak clearly about them will slowly gain ground. Most of the US isn't ideological at all, as Aldon pointed out:

"I think there is something very important here. If you ask many people if they are a Democrat, they may reply yes. They vote for Democrats. They are registered as Democrats, so they will reply, yes they are Democrats. However, if you ask them if they are a member of the Democratic Party, many of the same people will reply that no, they are not."

Aldon thinks that the Democratic Party has done a poor job of fostering organization loyalty and a sense of community. Please go read his whole post. I agree about the way the party is viewed, but I believe the reason why is that the Democratic party since Clinton has suffered from the lack of a strong, positive leader with a strong positive message, and so its message has tended toward the purely ideological. I also think just tossing Terry McAuliffe is a good start. The man has done a lot of harm to the party in the last five years.

A Captive Audience

Hehehe. Funny post from a funny blog. How did your dreams come true?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Evil Girls

I can tell that my brother is really feeling the holiday cheer, because he sent me this link to a mathematical proof that Girls Are EVIL!!!!

So there you have it. Use this knowledge wisely.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

47% Geek

Okay, I joined the dominant culture, although I'm not ever going so far as to watch a reality show. Instead, I took the online Geek quiz, my first online quiz ever, which can be found at the Mad Tech's. Officially I am a Geek liaison, like the Mad Tech. But at 47% Geek I'm close, very close, to drifting over the boundary.

Does this surprise you? Come on - this is a very nerdy blog. If you have read more than one or two entries you are pretty geeky and nerdish too. If you make it to the end of this one, the mighty community of geeks and nerds welcomes you with open arms. Wanna contribute to some open-source software? There is nothing we geeks love more than free, clever stuff that actually works and is completely available for tinkering.

The only reason I took the quiz was because of the staggeringly funny and truly geek-like nature of the translation exercise listed in the Mad Tech's blog (Geek translator is suggested as a career choice for Geek liaisons):
Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

You have to have some geek in you to realize just how deadly accurate the Trek thing is. A huge percentage of programmers are fans of the original Trek series. It's the ultimate geek show, the Rocky Horror Picture Show of an entire generation of geeks. It so epitomizes geekdom that if a current generation geek ever sees the show he or she also descends into a Geekish enthralled trance. When the victim eventually wakes up, he or she owns five or six Enterprise models, all the DVD's of the original series, and has spent some serious time considering the probable biochemistry of silicon-based life forms. In serious cases, the victim has also begun buying the novels. Some have also learned to play 3-D chess. You get bonus points if you learn any Klingon or Vulcan.

The heroes are the Ueber-Geek Spock, and Kirk, who is a nerd who studied hard and learned to pass as "normal" in order to get laid - but his two real long-term relationships are with the Ueber-Geek Spock (with whom he plays 3-D chess) and the ship. Every once in a while, usually in emergencies, Kirk breaks character and starts talking about really nerdy theoretical things like emergency coldstarts for the engines, thus proving he reads engineering journals for entertainment. Kirk has also studied a lot of history, because he wants to make sure society never repeats the mistakes it made before the nerds and the geeks took over. We understand Kirk's passions, because we too worship the rationality and sheer thrilling brain-power of the Geek God Spock (Adonis gets overthrown in the series - none of that sappy mythical stuff for us rational Geeks) and the beauty of the (say it in a reverently hushed voice) ship.

The ship is everything, because it is the vehicle conveying us to ever more fascinating Geekish discoveries. The Chief Engineer is in love with the ship's engines - he is the engineering Geek. So you have the Captain Nerd, the Science Geek, and the Engineer Geek. It's great stuff - an entire Geek society, which is a totally different thing than a Greek fraternity. The only normal guy is Doctor McCoy, who spends the entire voyage screaming in hysterics as the Geeks push the limits, but no one ever listens to him.

Now, non-Geeks who watch the show think Kirk is a ladies' man. Nothing can be further than the truth. This is a guy who, when he finds himself on an amusement park planet that automatically manufactures all your fantasies, has only one real fantasy - to beat up the Cadet who harassed him at Starfleet Academy. Kirk has a great time doing it. We have a great time watching him do it - we were always the ones harassed by those stupid punks in high school who were provoked by our grades and studying habits. Spock stands by watching approvingly, although he manages to get a word or two in about the illogic of the exercise. Later on we find out Spock too was harassed when he was a child. Harassment as an adolescent is the definitive formative experience of your average Geek.

And the Geeks beat the universe of bad guys! Bloodsucking clouds, evil aliens, Romulans, bureaucrats, laws of physics and aspiring gods and dictators all succumb to the power of the emancipated Geek-ship captained by the triumphant Nerd. And this is very realistic, because Geeks and Nerds really run 21st century society, although the French are trying to escape our dominion by fighting back with "cool" things like fashion, wine and cheese.

They are doomed, just as the Klingons were. Your geek has a formulaic wardrobe, eats only Swiss cheese, drinks water directly from the tap, and sucks down anything alcoholic handed to him or her without worrying too much about labels. The French think they're cool - we Geeks know they're irrelevant. If the non-Geeks ever start trying to be seriously competitive, we just draw straws and one of us writes something like The End Of History, thus sending the non-Geeks spiraling into a black hole of incredibly seductive stupidity for another decade while we get on with building our Linux-based society, in which information is free and Google will digitize all the libraries for us, so we can get our geeky fix free at our computers.

It's a wonderful thing - and the best part is the French have to pay for all this by desperately advertising their ridiculous wines on Google to avoid the rioting wine-makers. They're going to lose the battle, as we Geeks know from the sad cases of Jean-Luc Picard, a space-going refugee from a French wine-making family. Star Trek was the opening salvo of the new Geek world. It's a wonderful place, although we all want to get off the planet as quickly as we can. Somewhere out there Cochrane is waiting with an even better warp drive, which will get us out there even faster! With better special effects! We can't wait to boldly go, although we need the non-geeks to contribute some tax dollars to the effort. Not that they'll ever figure it out. They can't add, much less do percentages.

I now return you to your reality programming. Think about it.

Be careful with that glue

I'm not sure I believe this story about a guy who accidentally glued his penis to a table while working on models in his underwear, but on the other hand, why would you make up this story? It's a type of fame, but not one any guy I know would want to claim.

Blackfive on Iraqi Girl

Blackfive published an email from a Marine about the Iraqi girl who literally sat by a mine in the middle of a street to protect our troops. If this one doesn't make your eyes mist you're dead, and as the sergeant says, by sending aid for Iraqis you are helping their effort. Soldiers in Iraq are distributing toys and school supplies, just as they have in Afghanistan. There are links below the post to aid organizations.

This particular story might hit me even harder than most people because my German grandmother and other starving children were fed by soldiers after World War I. The soldiers were French, in that case. My grandmother, along with her whole family, nearly starved to death in World War I. For most of one whole winter they had almost nothing to eat but parsnips. She was a tiny woman - not even close to five feet - because of dreadful nutrition for several years as a child. It's just one reason why I view policies of harsh sanctions to oppose dictatorships as less humane than some others might. Those hurt first are always the innocent and powerless. The last to be hurt are the soldiers and those in power.

Cats, Communists and Morality

Ferdinand at The Conservative Cat was offended by the suggestion that cats are amoral. I don't blame him. Cats are quite as capable of living in social groups as Communists, and the death toll among cat prides is much lower than the death toll observed among societies that have experienced Communist revolutions. Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Trans-Atlantic Intelligencer

Just a quick blurb for the Trans-Atlantic Intelligencer's coverage of the Yushchenko "poisoning" case. This is where to go! The story keeps getting more and more bizarre, as is so ably explicated by this excellent blog. My guess is that Yushchi is having a reaction to some sort of contaminated needle-injected cosmetic treatment for wrinkles, most probably either botox or collagen injections.

Turkey/EU Update

Okay, so I'm fascinated by the EU. It's quite a drama, and in a way it forms an experiment testing something I've been thinking about since I was in elementary school - was the American union, with its political freedoms, essentially derived from the historical accident of economic freedom, or did our political freedoms come from a cultural decision? I suspect that democratic institutions cannot be sustained without genuine economic freedom, but does genuine economic freedom cause democratic political institutions to evolve? Developments in China make this a highly relevant question.

It's not looking all that great for Turkey right now. I'll have a much more comprehensive update next week, but for today, just this brief summary. Turkey is supposed to be offered "open-ended" membership talks beginning in October, with the condition of recognizing Cyprus first. That is significant because Chirac wants to hold a referendum to approve the EU Constitution in France in the spring, and he is afraid the membership talks for Turkey will derail that. The Socialist party in France disapproves of membership for Turkey.

If membership talks fail, the EU is not supposed to "abandon" Turkey, but allow it to keep a privileged position. In other words, the eventual outcome could go either way, and the proposed agreement is unlikely to settle the issue. Here is another article from the Turkish Press covering the same issues in more detail. The UK and Germany are strong backers of Turkey. France and Austria are basically against the prospect of Turkey ever getting full voting rights under the new EU Constitution. Bickering continues as I write.

France and Germany are squabbling over who is first among equals on the continent, and Schroeder continues a desperate search for a country willing and able to pay for arms imports AND acceptable to the EU. From over here it sure looks like France is afraid of a German/Turkish alliance and a resurgent Germany. I still think Chirac is overplaying his hand; Germany is coping with reunification as well as the stress of conforming to EU standards, and its internal situation may rapidly be becoming explosive. Furthermore, Germany wants its UN Security Council seat, and is seeking allies to attain that goal. France, of course, finds this unadvisable.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi is quietly elevating Italy's position in the EU, in no small part because he speaks more directly than the traditionalists. He does sound statesmanlike in this article. Berlusconi threw down the economic gauntlet recently by proposing major changes in the EU economic rules to shift towards more economic growth; Berlusconi is proceeding domestically with a pro-growth strategy of lower income taxes. I believe the original restrictions were largely a function of Germany's deathly fear of inflation, so it is possible Berlusconi will eventually prevail unless Germany's economic stagnation can be alleviated.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Grinch On DU

Honestly, the only reason I'm posting this is because even I wouldn't believe this a few months from now. I would think I had dreamed it.

Here's a thread on Democratic Underground started by a poster worried about "mean-spirited" Christmas displays this year:
"Do you have a lot of rw fundies with in-your-face christmas displays this year? Really mean spirited aggressive ones with huge "merry christmas" lightups? I used to like decorations, but now it looks like some kind of fucked up threat I'll show you deal. I feel like shorting the fucking wires."

Someone agrees:
"I never like Christmas displays but the one I find most disturbing is the one at the Boone Co (AR) courthouse, which features a big American flag as well as toy soldiers and snowmen."

Hey, I think Boone County is trying to be secular, ya know? Sometimes you just can't win for losing! A poster clearly possessed with all the Christmas-spirit peace and goodwill rw fundie stuff replies:
"ok wait a minute how in the hell is "Merry Christmas" mean-spirited? I mean come on now.

"It's not like they have 50 ft blow up * dolls with Bush is Lord on them and shit like that."

And yet another poster agrees with the original post:
"I think that what the poster means is that this year, the content seems to be more religious in content. More creches and fewer Santas or elved. There always have been huge light and ornament displays. But it looks like that this year the preachers -not just the fundie ones either - have put the message out: rub their noses in it.

"At least where I live."

(Ah ha! The vast right-wing conspiracy vision thing is striking again! Those creches! Where are you when we need you, Michael Moore? This is the wrong time to be shaved and suited! Get your scurfy overalls back on and come save us!)

This person isn't me, but does speak for me:
"Take a deep breath man... getting upset ofver Christmas decorations, and thinking they are a direct attack on you personally is, well, kinda weird.

"How can you have a "mean spirited aggressive" Christmas decoration?"

It's obvious! Or so the original poster thinks:
"This is different than before, this is organized.

"This is an aggressive Jesus campaign like I haven't seen since the campus crusade for christ in the early 70's. It definitely isn't a normal pleasant feel that you would normally get."

(Ah, the 70's. Yeeeees. That was when everything started to go bad. It was followed by the 80's and you-know-who. The name we dare not speak.)

The original poster again, in response to further objections along the lines of "I like Christmas lights":
"I swear, it's a "put christ back in christmas, support the troops and bush deal. Never before have I seen so many "merry christmas" lightup signs set out on purpose facing the main streets."

And so it goes. Some defend the lights, while one pagan helpfully provides pagan symbols, or, as an alternative, suggests:
"If nothing else put up a big sign that simply reads "Merry X mas." You can make the X very big."

Nothing like a good case of the open-hearted Christmas jollies, is there? It reminds me of some quote about the Puritans banning bear-baiting not because they disapproved of the bear's suffering, but because they disapproved of the spectators' enjoyment.

Over at Tom Carter's he has a link to Fisher House, which is an organization helping the families of wounded vets from all four services. That seems more constructive than massive displays of offensive Bushitler troop-supporting raindeer. Although I really like the lights, and if you put some up, I appreciate it.

Oh, and by the way - Merry Christmas. I don't mean it in any partisan or offensive way, I assure you.

Science vs. environmental religion

Before spending huge amounts of money to generate a negligible effect (such as would occur if we tried to conform to the Kyoto Treaty), we might want to figure out the science. Right now we are throwing darts, while blindfolded, at an imagined target we'll call the "stability zone". There is growing evidence that some of our attempts to control our effect on the climate via pollution may have generated effects opposite to those desired.

The first thing we have to remember is that the earth's climate has never been stable - it has been oscillating through cooling and warming cycles as far back as we can measure. And these were BIG swings. Very significant swings have been observed in historic times. In the last thousand years, the earth has been much cooler than it is now and warmer than it is now, by temperature ranges much higher than those experienced over the last century or anticipated over the next century. Why is this fact important? Because we can't eliminate man's effect on the climate, so we are attempting to mitigate it - yet we don't understand either the climate system without us in the equation or the effect we are having on the equation. It is, however, almost certainly possible to figure it out if we direct the money to hard-core scientific research. That's where we should be spending our dollars.

Here are some intriguing tidbits:

NASA on insect control and greenhouse gases.
"Scientists also have found outbreaks of plant-eating insects may be linked with periodic droughts and heat waves in North America, which can trigger large seasonal losses of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere." Potter added.

Note: Most greenhouse gases are generated naturally, not by man. Lowering CO2 in the atmosphere is the target of the Kyoto Treaty, but it will be almost totally ineffective, even if everyone met their goal.

Global cooling, not global warming? The Vostok analysis has shown that greenhouse gases seem to increase after a temperature rise, not before:
Russian scientists have analyzed changes occurred within the past 5, 20, and 100 thousand years and established that each warming is associated with the same behaviour of greenhouse gases: temperature rises firstly, and the concentration of greenhouse gases begins to increase later, with a lag of several thousand years. The growth of gases concentration is faster than that of temperature and soon outruns the latter. With a turn from warming to the next phase of cooling, the concentration of greenhouse gases inertially grows for a while. Then their concentration begins to decrease, which soon gets faster than the temperature decrease. This tendency progresses until glaciation phase that closes each climatic cycle.

Another climate protocol which worked - one that most of us have never heard of:
Researchers suggest that reductions of trace gases may allow stabilization of climate so that additional global warming would be less than 1° C, a level needed to maintain global coastlines. Although carbon dioxide emissions, an inherent product of fossil fuel use, must also be slowed, the required carbon dioxide reduction is much more feasible if trace gases decrease.

The Montreal Protocol has been very effective in reducing emissions of gases that destroy stratospheric ozone. Developed and developing countries have worked together harmoniously in this process, with the World Bank providing support for participation of developing countries.

"Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas (GHG), and slowdown of its emissions must have priority. It will be a growing issue in international relations for decades, if not longer," says Dr. Hansen. "However, that does not necessarily mean that 'Kyoto' is the best way to address the trace gases. 'Kyoto' gives too little or no weight to gases such as methane, the trace gas HFC-134a, ozone and the precursor gases that form ozone. We could get moving now on non-carbon dioxide gases with benefits such as improved human health, in addition to a slowing of global warming. The resulting international good will might also make discussions about carbon dioxide more productive."

But, BE CAREFUL - we may inadvertently cause global warming by limiting some trace gases in our effort to prevent it:
Climate researchers are warning that efforts to reduce air pollution could, if not well designed, make global warming worse. Limiting emissions of manmade nitrogen oxides, a strategy to control ozone in the lower atmosphere, would result in increased methane abundance and lead to additional greenhouse warming.

Nitrogen oxides, commonly abbreviated NOx, are shorthand for the combination of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (NO plus NO2) that are produced by aircraft and automobile emissions, in biomass burning, and by some industrial processes, as well as by such natural events as lightning.

In cleaning up emissions, did we inadvertently disrupt a natural cooling effect from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels? Probably:

Most evidence that increased levels of fossil fuel particles (aerosols) affects the reflectivity of clouds, thereby producing a cooling effect on the climate, has been indirect. "This made it difficult to determine the impact this phenomena, known as the indirect aerosol effect, has on the global climate," Penner said. "Our data makes the direct connection and opens new areas of study."

"This study is important for two reasons," Penner said. "First, it provides evidence that there is some cooling of the climate due to anthropogenic aerosols. Second, the simulation model we used has been shown to be a valuable tool in determining more directly the impact of aerosols on the climate."

Note: This is an utterly intriguing observation, because we know that the practice of brush-burning seems to extend back over 10,000 years in human history. Were we setting fires large enough to change the climate? It may be that we were changing the climate in the Stone Age and before. Brush-burning, for instance, was a technique used by Australian aborigines.

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