Friday, April 28, 2006

Recent commentary: Separating politicking from politics

Should politicians more clearly delineate their campaigning from their duties?

(published 1-May-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

I can’t figure out why we should expect that from our elected encumbrances. On the one hand we want them to “fix” things. We want our city aldermen to keep those darned kids from playing that awful music so loudly. We want our state assemblymen to pass a taxpayer bill of rights. And we want America’s only native criminal class – Congresscritters – to put a lid on gas prices! All of which they’d be happy to do for us if only we’d support their re-election campaigns. So, as much as we moan and kvetch about it, electioneering while in office is just part of the game. Every favor they do for us has a quid pro quo. There isn’t any such thing as a disinterested legislator. As P.J. O’Rourke put it, “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

Politically vs. factually correct

To keep an eye on multiple viewpoints, I subscribe to "This Week in Politics" from The New Republic. An item in today's issue caught my eye:
This Month in History: Nuclear Reaction

On April 26, 1986, a chain reaction at a Chernobyl power plant leads to the worst nuclear-power disaster in history killing thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands, and causing millions to suffer from radiation-induced illnesses.

That looked a wee bit high to me. So I checked out what the Encyclopaedia Britannica had to say about the accident:
Initially the Chernobyl accident caused the deaths of 32 people. Dozens more contracted serious radiation sickness; some of these people later died. Between 50 and 185 million curies of radionuclides escaped into the atmosphere—several times more radioactivity than that created by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. This radioactivity was spread by the wind over Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine and soon reached as far west as France and Italy. Millions of acres of forest and farmland were contaminated; and although many thousands of people were evacuated, hundreds of thousands more remained in contaminated areas. In addition, in subsequent years many livestock were born deformed, and among humans several thousand radiation-induced illnesses and cancer deaths were expected in the long term.

Is it fuzzy math in the New Republic's story? I wrote to them. I'll let you know what I hear back.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I love stories like this, LII

"Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." That was the hand-lettered phrase on t-shirts worn by some students at Charles O. Dickerson High School in Trumansburg, NY, in response to the National Day of Silence
sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — to bring attention to the pervasive problem of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying and harassment in schools.

The students wearing those shirts, and others wearing shirts with the slogan, "It's great to be straight", were suspended for the day. Some of the t-shirts were passed around from student to student. Everyone wearing one was asked to leave.

The article contains some primo examples of squishy, touchy-feely administrative-ese:
  • Cosimo Tangorra, superintendent of Trumansburg schools, said he supported the decision of high school officials to send the students home. “It seems to me kids are being discriminating,” Tangorra said. “It makes people uncomfortable. It's like if someone was wearing a white supremacy T-shirt.”
  • “Living in a free society, people can't feel threatened to live any way they want to be,” Tangorra said. “School districts need to be one of the safest, if not the safest, place for students to expand their thinking.”
  • “They said if I wanted to have a straight day, we'd have to get a group together and get an adviser in advance,” [one of the suspended students] said. “They told me about Matthew Shepard [the Colorado college student who was killed in 1998 after he was tied to a fence, beaten and pistol whipped], and that's why there's a Day of Silence.”
  • “Kids are permitted to wear notes of expression or political expression if they don't disrupt the school day,” [Russell I. Doig Middle School Dean of students Robert] Fitzsimmons said. “In a way, I wish we would spend more time dialoguing about this, but it's so touchy. We try to avoid controversy.”
Oh, gawd! "Why can't we all just get along?" asked Rodney King. Because we insist on inflicting sensitivity sessions and national days of silence and hate crime laws on everybody. Sheesh!

Upset about gas prices, are you?

In England the price for petrol is going up, too:
Petrol prices soared to a new record high, with the average price of a litre of unleaded reaching 96.13p.

If you need a bit of assistance with conversion of litres to gallons and English money to American money:

1 U.S. gallon = 3.79 litres
1 US$ = 0.55502 UK£ (source:
1 £ = 100 pence

Lets put that all together:

(96.13p/litre) x (1 £/100 p) x (1 US$/0.55502 UK£) x (3.79 litres/gal) =


Feel better now? Especially since that price in England is about 85% taxes?

24 square miles? Heck! I'd be against it too!

Environmentalists appear to be gearing up for a fight with one of their main allies, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. The enviros want to push ahead with a federal bill to fund a windmill farm in Nantucket Sound, 8 miles from Kennedy's home. There would be 130 windmills spread over a 24 square mile area of the ocean. Sheesh! Think of the carnage to the bird population! It would be a new form of road kill!

Kennedy's bid to block the proposal is a rider on a Coast Guard bill, so his fellow Congresscritters are looking to get rid of the rider on procedural grounds.

I wonder about that 24 square mile bit. This project is supposed to provide 420 Megawatts of power. That's about 3-and-a-quarter Megawatts per windmill. These things are at least 40 stories tall and they'll be situated smack dab in the middle of the Sound (see the map).

It just seems like too much sea room to devote to these things. I guess it's a creative way to get more of them packed into one area without using up real estate.

And consider: 420 Megawatts. That's 42% of the capacity of a single atomic power plant, and it takes 130 windmills to get even that much.

On a lighter note, back in September Greenpeace was giving a tour of the Sound to promote the windmill project. All of a sudden, "like circling sharks," a flotilla of 20 boats carrying wind farm opponents pulled a "Greenpeace": they hounded and harried the Greenpeace vessel, "sounding loud horns, waving banners and shouting, 'Go home!' " That's the spirit! Right near the site of the Boston Tea Party, too!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The President calls for a probe

The news that President Bush has done about the only thing he can do with respect to gasoline prices—that is, order an investigation—makes me wonder if we'll ever learn anything. I mean, a typical response to high gas prices is to call for a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. As my friend, Rocky, in San Diego says:
So now comes the perennial march of the demagogues - the search for conspirators, the call for windfall profits tax (as if taxing the companies will lower the price? I never saw the connection), the endless 'pain at the pump' human interest segments on the TV news, pillorying the speculators and oil traders, the oil executives dragged up before some congressional sub-committee or other so the sens and reps can get their sound bites done showing how hard they are on the evil oil execs (nothing ever comes of this), same thing every time the prices go up.

Which got me wondering: do you think that calling for a windfall profits tax is a political maneuver to satisfy the sort of person that believes that corporate taxes are like individual income taxes? I mean, when you or I get a tax increase we do what's possible for us: try to make more money and/or spend less. It seems that there are still those that think that companies work the same way with respect to taxes.

Time for a role-play: I, as the CEO of Big Oil, Inc., promise that any new, federally-mandated windfall profits tax will only come out of my company's obscene, unconscionable profits. Everything else will, and should stay the same: prices of my company's products, salaries of my employees, the number of people we employ, dividends for my stockholders, etc. Big Oil, Inc., would never raise its prices to cover a tax. Never! I promise! Cross my heart and hope to die...

Is the call for a windfall profits tax one of those things that the polls indicate is a smart political move? Gas prices go up so the government should "punish" the evil oil companies by laying another tax on them? I suppose that it's smarter politically than throwing cold water on people's hopes that the oil companies will somehow "suffer". A crass, but effective, play to schadenfreude.

Mightn't the late tobacco settlement have made us realize that even a stupendous court award comes out of the pockets of consumers—in this case, smokers—not the tobacco companies? Are my hopes that people will get the message to be dashed on the shoals of human nature again? Sheesh! You'd think that with a pack of smokes and a gallon of gas costing about the same that people would start to see the connection.

But, no. It's the oil companies' fault! [Full editorial disclosure: I do not own stock in any oil company.] They've got plenty of gelt from their record profits. Lets have the government take some of it. Heck! All of it if they can manage it. Why not? The oil companies make enough money...and on, and on, and on. It's enough to make me gag.

Now, if the guvmint ended any and all corporate subsidies, then we'd be talking....but that still wouldn't make gas prices go down.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, V

The home page for Project Thin Ice, the Greenpeace project I mentioned the other day, features a few TV ads. One has a Coca-Cola theme, but you don't find that out until the end of the ad. Pick 'Global Warming Ad' from the drop-down list and check it out. Then think about cutting back on driving your SUV to work every day to do your part to save the polar bears.

Nice gas price map

Click on the map to get to, a site that continually updates average gas prices nationwide by county and by zip. Cheapest in Wyoming right now, and most expensive in New York -- well, except for Hawaii. Don't even go there!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Why you can't trust the media, I

It's because of the math, pure and simple. In a story today reporting on the President's tour of a California factory developing hydrogen-powered vehicles, the article mentioned the rise in price of a gallon of gasoline since last year:
US retail pump prices were topping an average three dollars a gallon (3.8 liters) in many places in the country, up 60 cents -- 33 percent -- from a year ago.

I look with a jaundiced eye at just about any calculated number I see in a news story these days. Lets see if this statement is bona fide or not.

Start with a price of $3 a gallon, the current average price. A year ago the average price was $2.40 (as Rush Limbaugh says, that's $3.00 minus 60 cents, for those of you in Rio Linda). The kicker is the percentage: the amount of increase (60 cents) is, reportedly, 33 percent of the price a year ago.

33% of $2.40 is 80 cents; 60 cents is 25% of $2.40.

Granted, a 25% increase in price is still felt deeply in one's wallet. But lets not lose sight of accuracy in determining just how much pain there is.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gas prices and Bush approval correlation

This graphic shows the very tight correlation between Bush's approval rating in red and the reciprocal of the price of gasoline in dark blue. Think of the dark blue line as how much gas a dollar will buy you.

A larger version of this plot is here with an explanation of the scale and how it was plotted.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, IV

You've got to love a story like this. A couple of Greenpeace scientists are going to travel over the Arctic Ocean ice this summer testing ice depth and density. Their motive is to show that Arctic Ocean ice is decreasing because of global warming; and, as a result, the habitat of polar bears is threatened.

The absolute choicest bit of the article is the admission that a similar expedition was to have taken place last summer but it had to be called off because of...wait for it!...
Unusually heavy snow and ice

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Who'd a' thunk it? I

This is the kind of story that shows that inroads can be made into even the most dyed-in-the-wool environmental activist organization. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, makes the case for replacing coal-fired power plants with nuclear:
In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That's the conviction that inspired Greenpeace's first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

Now, I don't agree that we're going to see catastrophic human-caused climate change; but I'm ecstatic that a man of Moore's stature is taking a stand in favor of nuclear power.

MadameBoffin commented on this post:
I wouldn't crow too hard. Nuclear energy is being uptaken by many "greenies" simply because it's a better short-term option than coal and we're running out of time before climate change becomes more than what we all bargained for. We still haven't come up with a satisfactory way of removing nuclear waste :)

I replied:
Dear Madame Boffin,

I check out each correspondent's Blogger profile, if available. I was interested to see that one of your favorite books is "Dune". That is on my top shelf of all-time favorite novels. I've even read it aloud to my wife.

I also enjoy Crichton enormously, though my favorites from his word processor are "Jurassic Park", "The Andromeda Strain", "Rising Sun", and "Disclosure". I've read "Disclosure" twice and both times I read it straight through in one sitting.

Regarding my "crowing": I can well believe that the green crowd looks with some distaste on atomic power as the lesser of two evils when compared with fossil fuels. My admiration for the stance taken by Moore is based quite a bit on how much he's gone through to make it.

I'm with Jerry Pournelle regarding the use of computer models to predict global warming patterns. Specifically, if somebody can come up with a computer model to explain both 1) the establishment of dairy farms in Greenland by Vikings a thousand years ago (which are still down there under the ice), and 2) the freezing over of the Zuyder Zee (salt water), the Thames, and the Hudson during the "Little Ice Age", I would be far more inclined to take the human-caused global warming arguments more seriously.

I've seen some doozies presented as evidence by those with some sort of vested interest in seeing the U.S. and Western Europe hobbled vs. the rest of the world. What I haven't seen from these people is a serious attempt to refute the findings of scientists that have shown that North America ABSORBS more carbon dioxide than it emits.

I don't mean to play games with such a serious subject; however, it seems to me, that there is enough contrary evidence of anthro-centric global warming to warrant extensive investigations into the causes of warming rather than extensive expenditures to limit the effects of same when we're not sure what's really causing it.

I am not blind nor am I deaf. I've seen the reports about glaciers melting and the tundra defrosting and the north polar ice cap retreating. But is it because of the greenhouse effect as exacerbated by humans? Might it be due to increased solar activity or natural changes to the temperature of the ocean currents? That's what I wanna know but it's something that nobody in the environmental movement seems to want to discover.

One more thing regarding a "satisfactory" way of removing nuclear waste. Here, again, I have to agree with Pournelle: vitrification of the waste and dumping into a crustal subduction zone in a deep ocean trench, say in the Phillipines.


Steve Erbach
The Town Crank

Monday, April 17, 2006

Just surfing, VII

A nifty map for techno-geeks: a politico-physico-Interneto map showing the two-letter IANA Top-Level Domain Country Codes. The link will take you to a 2.7 MB JPG version of the map being offered for sale on the web site, my favorite web-developer's informational web site.

Bob Stein, the proprietor of, says "It's also the only map I've seen that's both political and physical showing relief of the oceans." Here's a tiny sample of this glorious map:

Hail! Kilpatrick!

Which big-city mayor:
  • cut payroll by $272 million since taking office.
  • has announced a plan to charge a fee for garbage pick-up and called the city-provided trash removal service a "trash subsidy".
  • is considering the sale of the city-owned lighting utility, saying
    "We are not a power company. If we are, we're a terrible one. We don't need to be in the power business."
  • thinks his city needs to outsource the management of the local zoo and museums.
  • has proposed a budged that privatizes youth recreation facilities.
  • reduced the size of the snow removal staff because "it's not snowing right now."

The answer: Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick (love the name!). Here's a guy who got in dutch for using city funds to lease a Lincoln Navigator for his wife. The voters forgave him by re-electing him, and he's been reborn as a small government thinker.

I love stories like this, LI

The principal "followed procedure. She made a decision to follow the handbook. She just misread it."

That was Tim Brown, director of operations for the Inglewood, CA, Unified School District, explaining why it was that some students at Worthington Elementary School had to use buckets behind the teachers' desks instead of the restrooms.

The "procedure" the principal followed was the one for nuclear attack. "There wasn't any nuclear attack!" you say? Well, you're right. Principal Angie Marquez locked the school down because middle school and high school students were walking out of their schools protesting new immigration legislation.
School board member Johnny J. Young defended the principal's decision, though he said that having children go to the bathroom in buckets was an extreme, one-time situation.

Young said that "a large percentage" of parents were satisfied with the principal's decision and expressed those sentiments during the school board meeting.

"They'd prefer to have students safe than stand in harm's way," he said.

Worthington Elementary School is seven blocks from Morningside High School, where fewer than 100 teenagers participated in the walkout. Administrators said they feared that if elementary school children were outside or in the open park behind the school, they would be swept into the crowd of protesters.

But angry parents and activists rejected that explanation, pointing out that schools with adjoining campuses to Morningside High, such as Clyde Woodworth Elementary and Monroe Middle School, did not implement strict daylong lockdowns. Woodworth elementary was under lockdown for less than an hour, and Monroe initiated a lower-level "alert lockdown," in which staff kept watch over school gates.

"Stand in harm's way?" Wouldn't a simple announcement over the PA to keep the children inside have sufficed?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, III

In the No Truer Words Were Ever Spoken category of chauffage mondial-ophilia, Sir David King, the British government's "chief scientist", said that if stringent measures are undertaken now to counteract the looming effects of anthro-centric global warming:
It is going to be a major challenge for the developing countries.

So tell me, Sir David, just how would we force the developing countries (China just happens to be among them; you know, 1.2 billion people or so) to institute these measures?

Is it something that would cause countries to go to war? I can just see the headlines: Battle of the Average Temperature Curve.

What would United States Army recruitment posters look like? Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Persuade Our East Asian Brothers and Sisters That They Shouldn't Use Outdoor Cooking Fires. It's too awful to contemplate.

I love stories like this, L

A hum-dinger of a story for the 50th installment of ILSLT. An Alabama high school teacher has sex with her students. That's nothing new these days, but this gal also plotted to kill her husband using the kids as the killers.

Not much I can say about this one other than to note that she hasn't been fired yet. She's sitting in jail and "She won't be back teaching our students," according the school district Superintendent; but she's still drawing a paycheck. It's simple irony, is all.

Those blankety blank taxes!

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) has got the right idea. In his Texas Straight Talk for April 10th, Paul addresses the "real enemy of tax reform": the spending culture in Washington, DC:
[W]e will never have tax reform in this country until Congress changes its spending habits. The reform rhetoric, regardless of which party it comes from, never changes the reality that federal spending grows every year. Congress spent $2.4 trillion in the last Bush budget; the new budget proposes to spend $2.7 trillion. The same unconstitutional agencies are funded, the same unwise programs are perpetuated, but at higher levels than last year. The previous budget serves merely as a baseline; the only question in any given year is how much spending will increase. Once created, no spending program is ever eliminated. The cycle goes on and on, with different administrations and different people in Congress.

But could America exist without an income tax? The idea seems radical, yet in truth America did just fine without a federal income tax for the first 126 years of her history. Prior to 1913, the government operated with revenues raised through tariffs, excise taxes, and property taxes, without ever touching a worker's paycheck. Even today, individual income taxes account for only approximately one-third of federal revenue. Eliminating one-third of the proposed 2007 budget would still leave federal spending at roughly $1.8 trillion-- a sum greater than the budget just 6 years ago in 2000! Does anyone seriously believe we could not find ways to cut spending back to 2000 levels? Perhaps the idea of an America without an income tax is not so radical after all. It’s something to think about this week as we approach April 15th.

Paul is essentially alone in the House of Representatives. He was the author of my all-time favorite bill, HR 1364, The Cost of Government Awareness Act of 2001. That bill abolished payroll withholding, but replaced it with something far more insidious: each taxpayer would have been required to write a monthly check to the federal government for income taxes that would normally have been withheld. "Insidious" in that, in very short order, people would clamor for changes in the tax laws. Writing an income tax check to the government hurts a lot worse than having it withheld by the company you work for.

This brilliant legislation died in the Ways and Means Committee. I mourned.

Rep. Paul keeps up the good fight. He continually introduces legislation to scale back IRS regulations. He also introduced House Joint Resolution 14:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to abolishing personal income, estate, and gift taxes and prohibiting the United States Government from engaging in business in competition with its citizens.

Paul's list of sponsored legislation is inspiring stuff. Go to Paul's Legislative Information page and click on the button for Sponsored legislation in the 109th Congress. Where there's life there's hope, as they say.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

People Embarrassing The Animals

Oh, gawd! They're at it again. PETA to stage a mock crucifixion in Vienna on Good Friday:
A row erupted on Thursday over plans by animal protectionists to symbolically "crucify" three activists with animal masks in a Good Friday protest outside Vienna's St Stephan's Cathedral.

The militant pro-animal group PETA said the activists would be suspended from crosses with crowns of thorns on their heads.

The slogan of the protest action would be "We suffer and die for your sins of nourishment."

I'd be embarrassed if I were a food animal.

I love stories like this, XLIX

What do Condoleezza Rice, a watermelon, and Bellevue Community College in Washington state have in common? A silly dust-up over a racial slur in a math problem. Sound far-fetched? It's business as usual in today's grievance culture when poked by somebody with a political ax to grind:
[Bellevue Community College student, Chelsey] Richardson, 25, said she found the question on a practice test for a math final she was studying for in March. The question read, "Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second." The question went on to ask when the watermelon will hit the ground, based on a formula provided. The question propagates a racial stereotype and denigrates Secretary of State Rice, said [Mercer Island civil-rights activist, Rev. Wayne] Perryman. While Rice's last name wasn't mentioned, the reference was clear, he said.

The grievance/political aspect of the story comes later:
The college declined to release the name of the teacher who wrote the question. [Bellevue Community College President Jean] Floten said the teacher has apologized and requested cultural-sensitivity training.

Isn't it wonderful that the culturally tone-deaf teacher voluntarily committed him/herself to sensitivity training? I am deeply moved by that demonstration of moral courage. I...I can hardly sp-speak! [Sob!]

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, II

Sometimes it's simply a matter of looking at it in a different way. Jerry Pournelle provides a superb example of looking at the typical scare-mongering of the anthro-centric global-warmists in this commentary on a credulous book review written by Anne-Marie O'Connor. The book was written by Tim Flannery and it's called "The Weather Makers". From Pournelle's commentary, beginning with quotes from O'Connor's review:
”About 100,000 years ago, Flannery says, the Earth was just slightly warmer than it is now -- and sea level was 12 feet higher.

“ ‘The biggest immediate issue,’ Flannery said, ‘is the melting of the polar ice caps.’

“ ‘We know that ice cap has been stable for at least a million years and more likely 3 million years,’ he said. ‘The north polar cap won't be there by 2020 and 2100 if it keeps up. Some people say it won't be there in 15 years time. That polar ice cap reflects sunlight back into space. Instead of reflecting the sun's energy, it is now absorbing the sun's energy, and that is heating the planet more. The ice is much thinner, maybe 40% of its thickness 30 to 40 years ago.’

“ ‘You don't have to be a Rhodes scholar or a Harvard graduate to see that's a problem.’ ”

I don't have to be a Harvard graduate to see that if the Earth were this warm 100,000 years ago, but the polar ice cap was stable for 1 million years or more, there is something wrong with his data. Nor do I recall that 95% of all species died off 100,000 years ago, but my education in those matters may be deficient. Does anyone know of such a die-off?

...I still don't understand how the ice cap can have been there for a million years when 100,000 years ago the Earth was warmer and the seas 12 feet higher. Perhaps someone more learned in these matters can explain it to us. I fear Anne-Marie O'Connor didn't think to ask.

This is the kind of observation that is lacking in the whole debate.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, I

Two columns on anthro-centric global warming that reinforce my resistance to the don't - worry - about - whether - the - theory - is - correct - or - not - just - do - something crowd. First from The Daily Telegraph, a piece claiming that warming stopped in 1998. From the article:
The essence of the issue is this. Climate changes naturally all the time, partly in predictable cycles, and partly in unpredictable shorter rhythms and rapid episodic shifts, some of the causes of which remain unknown. We are fortunate that our modern societies have developed during the last 10,000 years of benignly warm, interglacial climate. But for more than 90 per cent of the last two million years, the climate has been colder, and generally much colder, than today. The reality of the climate record is that a sudden natural cooling is far more to be feared, and will do infinitely more social and economic damage, than the late 20th century phase of gentle warming.

The next is by Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, Richard Lindzen, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Here's the first part:
There have been repeated claims that this past year's hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?

The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism. Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science--whether for AIDS, or space, or climate--where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.

But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.

All of which feeds my inclination towards getting a better handle on the "problem" of human-induced warming, if any. All the squawking about anthro-centric global warming conveniently ignores those climate trends that existed on this planet in historical and pre-historic times...long before there were any SUV's.

I'll offer a sop to the global warmists: If their computer models can explain past global temperature variations — specifically the warming of Greenland to the degree that the Vikings had dairy farms there (today they're covered by glaciers) and the cooling of northern Europe and America in the 1700s such that the Thames, Zuyder Zee, and the Hudson froze over in the winter — then I'll believe they've got something. Until then, however, I cannot condone setting draconian environmental policies on Western nations (most especially, the U. S.) based on computer models and street marches.

They think it's a blessing. What's wrong with us?


The Iranian people seem to think that their scientists' achievement of producing enriched uranium is accompanied "with the blessings of God almighty", according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
"At this historic moment, with the blessings of God almighty and the efforts made by our scientists, I declare here that the laboratory- scale nuclear fuel cycle has been completed and young scientists produced enriched uranium needed to the degree for nuclear power plants Sunday," Ahmadinejad said.

"I formally declare that Iran has joined the club of nuclear countries," he told an audience that included top military commanders and clerics in the northwestern holy city of Mashhad. The crowd broke into cheers of "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!" Some stood and thrust their fists in the air.

Whereas we have turned up our noses at building new atomic power plants for decades because we're too squeamish to deal with the piddling amount of waste. Who's nuttier, us or them?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I take issue with Taranto's stance on libertarianism

Today's issue of Opinion Journal's Best of the Web Today contains a reaction ("The Ugly Side of Libertarianism") to a screed by putative libertarian, Edward Peck, of the Independent Institute. James Taranto, BotWT's principal pundit, takes Peck to task for his support of Harvard's Walt and Mearsheimer, the authors of a notorious article in the London Review of Books. The article claimed that there is an "Israel Lobby" in the United States that materially affects our foreign policy:
[T]he thrust of US policy in the [Middle East] derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Taranto presented an excellent refutation of the article in a recent edition of BotWT. Now comes Peck's defense of Walt and Mearsheimer:
The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby--validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name.

All democracies have lobbies. Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous.

Taranto dismisses Peck's defense, and I have no quarrel with that. What bothered me was that he tarred all of libertarianism using Peck as the brush:
[L]ibertarianism is an ideology. Ideology can lead to fanaticism, and fanaticism to hatred. Check out the Independent Institute's Web site (please note: not to be confused with the Independence Institute) or, even worse, (sorry, we're not linking [But I will -- SWE]), and you'll find far libertarianism to be pretty much indistinguishable from the far left and the far right.

Taranto attempted to deflect criticism of his statements by noting that he'd been an intern for Reason magazine 20 years ago. I was not to be deflected.

So I wrote to him. Here's my e-mail:
Dear Mr. Taranto,

I don't mean to be tiresome, but the statement you made today in Best of the Web Today was not altogether meaningful:

"But libertarianism is an ideology. Ideology can lead to fanaticism, and fanaticism to hatred."

You did, however, somewhat redeem yourself with:

"'ll find far libertarianism to be pretty much indistinguishable from the far left and the far right."

But the net effect, the semantic content of that piece of your column is zero. That you chose to focus your gaze on "far" libertarianism today just seemed to mean that you had to fill some space.

I mean, a conclusion one could draw from your column is that conservatism is not an ideology. Clearly, if that were so, then the Encyclopaedia Britannica wouldn't have bothered to include it in its ideology roundup: .

You must have a different definition of "ideology" than I do. If it's colored by the fact that conservatism has more adherents than libertarianism, then you would seem to subscribe to some sort of popularity contest for your un-ideology; that is, libertarianism -- or, indeed, any political philosophy-cum-ideology that doesn't have as many devotées as conservatism -- doesn't have anything to offer. I'm sure the good folks at Cato would respectfully disagree.

Suit yourself. I enjoy your columns very much. You're the most trenchant conservative daily pundit there is. It's amazing to me how you manage to write so consistently well and entertainingly every single day.

I find myself scratching my head, though, whenever you find time to criticize libertarians. Was your application for internship at The National Review turned down and Reason was a distant second-best?


Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI
(The least-read, fairly sizeable blog on the GoreNet)

I love stories like this, XLVIII

Not that this is surprising...

A teacher shows his 8th grade science class an Internet video that's, well, inappropriate for school: an obscene animated anti-Clinton clip. I guess that the teacher isn't too politically biased one way or another because he's an equal-opportunity hater. He also showed an anti-Bush video.

By the way, the teacher, West Limestone High School science teacher Steve White, is running for the Alabama state legislature on the Democratic ticket.

Oh, if you want to see the videos they're at

Oh, my God

Click on the still from this appaling video on the Smoking Gun page that describes the lawsuit filed by the DEA agent against the agency. I'm surprised the guy is till working for the DEA. He fired his weapon accidentally during a seminar and shot himself in the foot.

Now, I've got to hand it to him, he tried to continue the presentation using himself as a cautionary example. But imagine yourself in the audience with your kid. When the weapon discharged it wasn't pointed towards anyone; but I think if I had been in the front row with my daughter I would have left immediately.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Atomic power improves education

The debate over the quality of education in this country is not a debate at all in Gaffney, SC. There the community of 13,000 "promised to establish new science, math and engineering courses in local schools". Is this a response to the federal No Child Left Behind Act? Nope. The town is vying for an atomic power plant to be built there:
"We're looking at the kids who are in fifth grade," [Executive Director of the Cherokee County Development Board James P.] Inman said. "Those are the ones who need to start getting ready now for the jobs that are coming. That way they won't have to move away to find work if they don't want to."

There's oppostion to the Gaffney plant. But I think people are at last beginning to take a realistic view of the risks and the potential benefits -- the old Ben Franklin method triumphant.
"The financial impact here will be phenomenal," [Cherokee County Council chairman L. Hoke] Parris said. "Right now, downtown's pretty much dead. Pretty much all we've got is Wal-Mart and the yellow mall."

Besides, he said, there have been nuclear facilities around the region for decades, and he thinks residents in the Carolinas have gotten used to them.

"I think people are just pretty much comfortable with nuclear power in this part of the country," Mr. Parris said. "We're getting farther away from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fascinating but it makes me queasy

Just a bit more than I wanted to know...

Can you guess what "anthropodermic bibliopegy" is? No? Well, it's the binding of books with human skin:
Much of the text is in French, and it was not uncommon around the time of the French Revolution for books to be covered in human skin.

The practice, known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, was sometimes used in the 18th and 19th centuries when accounts of murder trials were bound in the killer's skin.

Anatomy books also were sometimes bound in the skin of a dissected cadaver. In World War II, Nazis were accused of using the skin from Holocaust victims to bind books.

So, old Ed Gein was just following a centuries-old tradtion. I'll just stick with vaccinodermic or porcodermic, if you don't mind.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The second-best laugh this week

At first I thought that Bernard Goldberg's book, "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken is #37)", was his attempt to write like a P. J. O'Rourke wannabe. I read a couple of his essays and just decided to return it to the library when I got around to it.

But today I read through the general essays at the beginning of his book and changed my mind about it. This is the start of the best of them in the chapter titled "Sex Warriors":
A few years ago, I was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C. Every important feminist this side of Venus was there. I got a standing ovation as I walked to the podium, and my speech was interrupted too many times to count by enthusiastic applause.

I started out by saying, "I'm going to take this opportunity to speak truth to power." I pointed out that there was just too much anger coming from the entrenched feminist camp, too much hostility that often showed its ugly face in the form of male-bashing. I told them I thought Gloria Steinem's line about how "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" was juvenile, and that over the years, there had been too much of the same from feminist leaders. In conclusion, I told them to back off, to knock off the sexual-warrior crap, that men were not the enemy, and that their constant whining about being "victims" made them look not like strong women but like little schoolgirls.

Then, two incredible things happened: First, every woman in the room rose as one and gave me a roaring second standing ovation, which went on even longer than the first. Then my alarm clock went off.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Just surfing VI

Wolfram Tones is a site where you can download unique tones for your cell phone. I don't have the kind of cell phone that allows that sort of thing; however I like it for the limitless synthesizer-type musical sounds that you can create on-line. The sounds are generated using algorithms from Stephen Wolfram's book, "A New Kind of Science".

Just surfing V

Kind of a cross between Galaxy Quest and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Recent commentary: NCLBA vs. NDEA

Should Wisconsin have joined the national No Child Left Behind lawsuit?

(published 10-Apr-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

You know what this reminds me of? Sputnik and the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958. America was electrified by that little Russian satellite. The NDEA supported college loans for math, science, and foreign language students, and provided money for those subjects to elementary and secondary schools – $844 million dollars in its first four years. Just $5 billion in today's dollars. No federal interference in curricula; no federal education bureaucracy -- that came in with Carter 21 years later. So what have we got now? States complaining that the feds aren't funneling enough swag into their school systems to pay for a voluntary program. Don't get me wrong: I never thought the NCLBA was a good idea. But what happened to us? We used $211 million a year to win the space race. Today, we have a Department of Education and we spend $7000--$10,000 annually per student and we're losing academically to third world countries. Can you say "negative return on investment?"

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Whatever next? II

Comment would detract from this story:
SPRINGFIELD, MASS. - A baby shower erupted into a fight among guests in which one man was shot and several other people, including the seven-months-pregnant guest of honor, were beaten with a stick, police say.

Three people were arrested after the brawl, described by police as a "baby shower gone bad."

Police said the shooting victim, Aristotle Garcia, got into a fight with a man who is dating his ex-girlfriend. The argument, over whether the woman let their 5-year-old daughter drink beer, escalated...

You get the idea.

Just for fun II

A friend sent me this yesterday. Best laugh of the week.

I usually don't care about this stuff

But casting Paris Hilton as Mother Teresa? One of the world's richest women and Internet pornography sensation on the "short list" to play a Catholic saint?
Her features resemble Mother Teresa," director T. Rajeevnath told AFP from the southwestern coastal state of Kerala.

The filmmaker said Hilton is on his shortlist after a computer-generated image showed a close facial match between the hotel heiress and the Albanian-born nun.

Okay...whatever you say!

My friend, William, says "The faces might match but the habits don't!"

Monday, April 03, 2006

Letter to my Congresscritters: National Resources

The Honorable Messrs. Feingold, Kohl, and Petri,

This may be a quixotic venture, writing to Congressmen from the state that brought us the co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, but I'm going to try anyway.

Please support, or better yet, co-sponsor, H. R. 689, Representative Roscoe Bartlett's "First Amendment Restoration Act." Somehow the phrase "except when a TV ad mentions an incumbent Congressman by name within 60 days of an election" got shoe-horned into that most glorious of Constitutional Amendments, the First: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."

Please, take a moment to re-read the First Amendment and put out of your mind the myriad exceptions, quid pro quos, exclusions, regulations, and restrictions that have been forced on us by the busybodies over the last two hundred years. Please restore the First to its pristine state. It is one of our most precious national resources.


Mr. Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI

I love stories like this XLVII

Lot of people all het up in Longmont, CO. It's this here immigration issue. The school, in the interests of helping to cool tempers, has banned the display or wearing of both Mexican and American flags:
"The flags no longer were being used as symbols of patriotism or of cultural heritage, but of ethnic intimidation, harassment and blatant bigotry," [Longmont High School Principal Tom] Stumpf said.

The American flag still flies on the flagpole in front of the school in east Longmont, and each classroom has an American flag. But tensions between Hispanics and non-Hispanics were building, Stumpf said, and the flags were being used as the wrong kinds of symbols.

I'm glad that the American flag is still allowed in the classrooms. But I do wonder if they still say the Pledge of Allegiance...or would that be too provocative?

Would this guy volunteer to be among the 90%?

Another Paul Ehrlich in the making...

It fascinates me that biologists that preach the end of civilization as we know it are labelled "revered". The latest of the "revered" biologists to claim that a massive human die-off is coming says:
“Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine,” Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward’s University on Friday. Pianka’s words are part of what he calls his “doomsday talk” — a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity’s ecological misdeeds and Pianka’s predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

Though his statements are admittedly bold, he’s not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity’s collapse is a notion he embraces.

Indeed, his words deal, very literally, on a life-and-death scale, yet he smiles and jokes candidly throughout the lecture. Disseminating a message many would call morbid, Pianka’s warnings are centered upon awareness rather than fear.

“This is really an exciting time,” he said Friday amid warnings of apocalypse, destruction and disease. Only minutes earlier he declared, “Death. This is what awaits us all. Death.” Reflecting on the so-called Ancient Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times,” he wore, surprisingly, a smile.

Oh, gag me! Yet more evidence that we love to hear scare talk. The guy should get over himself and read a couple Julian Simon books.

My San Diego friend, Rocky, had the right attitude: "What's the time line? We have some vacations planned for this summer."

There is at least one scientist that doesn't fawn over this idiocy. It's Forrest Mims, chairman of the Environmental Science section at the Texas Academy of Science. He attended the talk quoted above:
[F]ive hours later, the distinguished leaders of the Texas Academy of Science presented Pianka with a plaque in recognition of his being named 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist. When the banquet hall filled with more than 400 people responded with enthusiastic applause, I walked out in protest.

Meanwhile, I still can't get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate for the slow and torturous death of over five billion human beings.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The logical extension

I'd say that many, if not most, people are now familiar with the tactics employed by the busy-body industry in its crusade against deleterious activities or substances that affect the health of individuals and stretch and strain public health services. That is, get something banned because of that very drain on those very services.

Here's the latest: Ban pornography because of the physical damage it causes to the brain and the subsequent strain it places on public health services:
They are urging federal prosecutors to pursue more obscenity cases and raising funds for high-tech brain research that they hope will fuel lawsuits against porn magnates.

"We don't think it's a lost cause," said Harmer, a Utah-based auto executive and former politician who's been fighting porn for 40 years.

"It's the most profitable industry in the world," he said. "But I'm convinced we'll demonstrate in the not-too-distant future the actual physical harm that pornography causes and hold them financially accountable. That could be the straw that breaks their back."

First cigarettes, then fatty foods, now pornography. This tactic is very effective. The United States will soon become a bureaucratic state more draconian and convoluted than ancient China -- or modern Europe.

"Too soon!"

Is it really? I couldn't help but cringe at the thought of comfortable movie-goers shouting out that the trailer for "United 93" was "too soon!" I suppose, if one were to think the worst of them, one could say that they'll never be ready for something like "United 93". Thinking about the event requires discriminating thought, a quality most of us think everybody else has a very short supply of. In other words, "they" are too stupid for words but "we" are not.

All right, I can understand the feeling of disgust that some entertainment corporation is trying to make hay out of this event, like the TV mini-series and documentaries about shootouts at Waco or Ruby Ridge. Of course, those people that were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge weren't the sympathetic characters that the passengers of United flight 93 were.

"United 93" will prove to be as gut-wrenching as "The Passion of the Christ" I think. And maybe, just maybe, it will prove to have that quality of art that Aristotle said should lead to the catharsis of our "pity and terror." In other words, this movie might serve as a release for that lingering yet still strong pressure on our emotions that we have felt since September 11, 2001.