Saturday, May 26, 2007

Congressman, step away from the pump

Sooner or later it had to happen. Gas prices continue to rise so Congress decided to do something rather than leave well enough alone. As Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute writes:

Tuesday, they voted to sick the Justice Department on OPEC for violating U.S. anti-trust laws (good luck with that). Wednesday, they voted to ban service stations from taking "unfair advantage" of motorists and outlawed "unconscionably excessive" prices for gasoline and other fuels were the president to declare an energy emergency.

What constitutes taking "unfair advantage"? Congress doesn't say. Apparently, taking "fair advantage" of motorists is O.K. And what is an "unconscionably excessive" price? Again, silence. Presumably, "conscionably excessive" pricing is O.K., as is "unconscionably high" prices if we posit that there is a difference between a "high" price and an "excessive" price. The fact that Congress passes this sort of gobbledygook suggests that they aren't particularly serious about doing much beyond providing themselves a talking point when they return to their districts this weekend.

So we have yet another set of laws that matches the posturing of our legislators. Do you feel better?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A serious international web site

Just in case, as James Taranto of Best of the Web Today says, "some adult hasn't stepped in and taken it down", here are three screen shots of the graphics accompanying a "survey" on the Amnesty International web site. The survey itself? Well! Maybe it's something you want to take!

Who's got the worst human rights record?

Torture, enslavement of Wookiees, decimation of the Alderaanian civilization.

Attacks on Spiderman, gassing civilian populations, using innocents as human shields.

Torture, black sites, "disappearances," kangaroo courts, indefinite detention, and more!

Monday, May 21, 2007

I haven't read the book but...

...the review had some very interesting and compelling things to say about the Iraq War. But first...

I haven't said much about the war. I supported our entry into the war for a number of reasons. But there has always been an issue that holds me back from being you-rah-rah about our continuing, though necessary, effort there.

That issue is the new kind of war that the U. S. invented in the waning years of the Reagan administration: technology-aided warfare. Because our armed forces had come out of a period of low defense budgets after the Vietnam War, the appeal of techno-war with little commitment of ground forces seemed to be just the ticket for future conflicts. The U. S. could keep its nose from getting bloodied if we just bombed from afar with smart bombs. Of course, when we did get our nose bloodied, as in Somalia, we ducked out. Those conflicts didn't fit the profile of low-intensity ground action with high-intensity air strikes.

The Gulf War seemed to justify faith in high-tech operations. I think everybody remembers the pictures of the incredible smart bomb strikes. Not all of our bombs hit what they were aimed at, but there was extensive effort to make it seem as if they did. The mop-up of Saddam Hussein's much-vaunted Republican Guard seemed to be an anti-climax after the pummeling it took from our Air Force. We certainly didn't stint when it came to applying overwhelming ground forces for that mop-up, though.

In the mid-90s I remember wondering how the heck the Balkans could be pacified simply by bombing everything in sight. The Clinton administration did everything it could to prevent troop casualties in the former Yugoslavia. That was its main strategy; but there didn't seem to be any way that Milosevic would stop slaughtering Kosovars unless there were at least some troops on the ground. Clinton managed to get away with putting the United Nations peace-keeping forces in the front lines, so to speak. The U.S. lost far more men in training accidents than we lost in combat in those years.

Then after the Balkans came Afghanistan and the Iraq War. With a lightning fast ground assault supported by better smart bombs than ever, the United States and coalition forces waltzed into Kabul and Baghdad in jig time. The total of the ground forces was much smaller than that used for the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. The faith we had in our technologically-backed armed forces was nigh onto unshakeable.

But we have been shaken, and, according to the book I mentioned up-front, it's because we had too much faith in technology. That is the conclusion drawn in Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy, by Frederick W. Kagan. The book is reviewed by Colin Dueck in the Spring 2007 edition of the Claremont Review of Books. Unfortunately, there is no on-line version of the review, so I'm going to transcribe portions of it here.

As I said at the outset, I haven't read the book myself, but this review makes me want to very much. Dueck summarizes the points Kagan makes in his book:
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the argument began to gain steam that precision air strikes could be used to attack a country's leadership, infrastructure, troops, communications, and equipment to paralyze and overwhelm it without the need for heavy, costly ground campaigns. In some circles, the first Gulf War was viewed as a vindication of this argument. The air campaign against Saddam in 1991 certainly achieved remarkable effects. It removed Iraq's air force from the equation; undermined and damaged Iraqi command and control, communcations, and logistics; demoralized Iraq's rank and file soldiers; and dramatically reduced the Iraqi army's maneuverability. As Kagan explains, however, it was not airpower by itself that won the Gulf War: a major ground campaign, executed with skill and preparation by the U. S. Army and Marine Corps, was critical in forcing Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. There is no reason to believe that this outcome could have been reached through airpower alone. Yet the images of precision weapons destroyig Iraqi targets from great distances encouraged the impression that a new age had dawned in warfare, an age of smart bombs and real-time intelligence, in which the U. S. would be able to fight its conflicts at minimal cost or commitment on the ground, by relying on high-flying technological advanteages.
The impressions arising from the first Gulf War grew over the course of the 1990s. America's pin-prick wars against Slobodan Milosevic during the decade were not really fought in the absence of ground support. The United States relied upon MUslim and Croat proxies in 1995, and upon the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999 together with the ultimate threat of some kind of U. S. grouhd intervention to achieve significaant effects against Serb forces. It is still not enitrely clear why Milosevic conceded when he did in 1999; Russian diplomatic pressure seems to have played an important part. In any case, the widespread perception that the war over Kosovo was won entirely from the air perhaps the first such victory in history only strenghthened the hand of air-power enthusiasts and advocates of transformation. War could now be seen as a kind of targeting drill, in which the United States would launch precision strikes from great distances against critical nodes in the enemy's command, logistical, and communications sytem, while minimizing risk to American forces. Here was the military equivalent of Dell Computers, delivering light, efficient, "just-in-time warfare" to mimic the wonders of information-age business models. It was a vision that had much appeal during the Clinton years for reasons financial, political, and bureaucratic. The practical international and military disadvantages of this vision its inability to accomplish the political mission at hand or to deliver effective control over events unfolding on the ground were not given equal consideration. Apparently nobody in high office asked the question: what if, after being pummeled by our high-tech precision weaponry, the enemy does not surrender?
Far from disowning the concept of light, agile, long-distance warfare, George W. Bush campainged in 2000 in favor of the military's accelerated transformation. He also campaigned against "nation-building" missions overseas. The appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense indicated his seriousness in both regards. Rumsfeld made military transformation his leading priority, downplayed the importance of operations other than war, and pressed his vision with keen bureaucratic skill and eenergy. After the terrorist attacks of September 2001, he saw no reason to question this emphasis on transformation. On the contrary, he saw the war against the Taliban, and then the invasion of Iraq, as opportunities to fight and win America's wars using transformational weapons and techniques, without the burden of heavy or protracted postwar stability operations. In practical terms, this meant conducting both wars with a relatively small number of troops on the ground, and with every intention of having those troops leave as quickly as they had arrived.

The war in Iraq has now lasted almost four years, degenerating first into a bloody counterinsurgency and then into multidirectional sectarian violence of increasing brutality. The war in Afghanistan, though less visible in the daily headlines, has also seen disappointments, as Taliban forces fight to recover their former influence. We are now entitled to ask whether or not the emphasis on military transformation Rumsfeld's preferred method, and apparently President Bush's as well, for fighting these wars has been vindicated by events.

Kagan's achievement in Finding the Target is to show that America's "postwar" frustrations were not simply unpredictable complications of war, but were massively, and unnecessarily, aggravated by the administration's emphasis on military transformation. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration failed to match military means to political ends. The obvious and stated purpose of American intervention was not only to overthrow hostile regimes, but also to create a stable postwar environment in which support for terrorism could not flourish. The latter goal was at least as important as the former; without it, neither invasion would have made sense. Yet despite lip service to the contrary, the planning for both wars was conducted with an astonishing indifference to the entirely foreseeable need to create a secure political environment after conventional military operations had ceased.
To say that hindsight is 20/20 is simply not good enough: both contingencies [the escape of al-Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan and the period of chaos and the rise of the insurgency in Iraq] were foreseen and warned of at the time by numerous defense, intelligence, and foreign policy experts and officials within the U. S. Yet the administration apparently chose to ignore them because of its commitment to a particular form of light, detached, high-tech warfare.

What is to be done? The U. S. military has learned (or more properly, re-learned) hard lessons about the nature of counterinsurgency and stability operations since 2003 and has begun to move in the right direction. Kagan believes our military forces are over-extended and recommends immediately increasing the size of both the Army and Marine Corps. ... But if the U. S. is going to intervene abroad to establish friendly new governments, it has no choice but to prepare itself for some form of nation-building. Troops must be properly trained not only to fight and win high-tech conventional wars against conventional opponents, but to prevail in postwar conditions against guerilla tactics and terrorist insurgencies. A primary emphasis on technological transformation is positively unhelpful under such circumstances, because it creates the illusion that these relatively low-tech, messy, close-in, unconventional conflicts are simply temporary distractions from the larger and more important project of modernization. They are not. On the contrary, they are the only kind of wars the U. S. is actively fighting, and there is no more urgent priority than winning them.

This fills in quite a few pieces of the puzzle for me, particularly my understanding of the progress of U. S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will never be free of the need for well-trained troops on the ground to secure the political goals of war. Our faith in high-tech has caused us to forget that. It has also caused opponents of the war to clamor for withdrawal; the justification being that a precipitous withdrawal is the best if not the only practical option left open to us. The number of casualties is the flag around which the anti-war troops are rallying, so to speak.

I don't believe that this is a war we can walk away from. I support the continued funding of our forces with increased troop strength to make use of the hard lessons they've learned. In no way do I feel that quickly withdrawing our troops will 1) make us safer, 2) repair our relations with our allies, or 3) bring peace to the region or to the United States.

Returning to the "nuisance" of pre-9/11 terrorism (as Senator Kerry put it in 2004), or to an "acceptable level of violence" as the Brits say about the troubles in Northern Ireland, is not our way. This struggle is one we have to face. We can't wish our way out of it, we can't negotiate our way out of it. We have to show that we are willing to fight and die to relieve ourselves of this threat, this reality, these butchers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

This year's top illusions

I thought I'd pretty much seen everything in the realm of optical illusions, but I was wrong. I was browsing and I found this year's "Best Visual Illusion of the Year" contest. The top 10 finalists are featured on the web site. Some amazingingly beautiful illusions. I find it hard to imagine how they'd be represented without computer technology. The example pictured above is the initial position of my favorite of the 10. The web site allows animation and selection of different properties. Check it out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Recent commentary: Gas boycott

Do you plan on participating in the May 15 "gas out"?

(published 14-May-2007, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Stupid ideas never die; they live forever on the Internet. The Gas Out is the perfect protest: it doesn't cost anything, you don't have to march in the rain with people who haven't bathed in a isn't even inconvenient! You simply buy gas a day earlier or later than May 15th and voila! Those evil oil companies will lose ... um ... well, nothing. Talk about a hollow threat. With a real boycott you have to actually sacrifice something. The Gas Out will have as much impact on the oil companies as World Jump Day had on the climate. What was World Jump Day? It was an international campaign to get everybody on Earth to jump up at the same exact instant. When everybody landed the earth's orbit would be perturbed just enough to push it a bit further from the sun, thus ending global warming! Didn't you jump? I did!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Anthro-centric global scare-mongering, XXXVI

Another round-up of recent anthropogenic global warming stories...

First, "These things are fact, not hypothesis." That's what Wendy Baker, the president of Lloyd's America, said about her company's report on the awful things that are going to might happen:
Floods and drought: Lloyd's assesses climate change

Mon May 7, 2007 7:06PM EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurer, offered a gloomy forecast of floods, droughts and disastrous storms over the next 50 years in a recently published report on impending climate changes.

"These things are fact, not hypothesis," said Wendy Baker, the president of Lloyd's America in an interview on Monday. "You don't have to be a believer in global warming to recognize the climate is changing. The industry has to get ready for the changes that are coming."

In a report on catastrophe trends Lloyd's is disseminating to the insurance industry, a bevy of British climate experts, including Sir David King, chief scientist to the British government, warn of increased flooding in coastal areas and a rapid rise in sea level as ice caps melt in Greenland and Antarctica.

Northern European coastal levels could rise more than a meter (3 feet) in a few decades, particularly if the Gulf Stream currents change, the report says.

Floods, which now account for about half of all deaths from natural disasters, could multiply and become more destructive, with annual flood damages in England and Wales reaching 10 times today's level, according to some studies.

At the same time, drought patterns that are already forming in some parts of the world are going to get worse, particularly in southern Africa.

Even the lush Amazon may dry up, and with less vegetation, more carbon dioxide will leak into the atmosphere, making the global warming problem even worse, the Lloyd's study says.

Note the qualifiers: "could", "may", "impending", "according to some studies". So Ms. Baker feels justified in declaring all of these events – which may never happen – "facts".

But wait a minute! Here's the true cause of Lloyd's alarm:

Baker said Lloyd's has formed a partnership with American International Group, the world's biggest insurer, Harvard University's Center for Health and the Global Environment and the Insurance Information Institute, a research group.

The four will hold a forum in the fall of 2007 to look at the severity and consequences of future natural catastrophes.

"The property casualty industry had an easy year in 2006, when there were no U.S. hurricanes," Baker said. "But the next one may make Katrina look inexpensive."

There's your "catastrophe" for you: the destruction of the insurance industry from a global deluge of ... wait for it! ... insurance claims!

Because of the diligence of environmentalists of all stripes, but particularly the global warming johnnies, we've all been told ad infinitum, ad nauseum, that lots of things we do are bad for the planet. Now it's human children that are "bad for the planet":
Children 'bad for planet'

By Sarah-Kate Templeton in London

May 07, 2007 12:00am

HAVING large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour in the same way as frequent long-haul flights, driving a big car and failing to reuse plastic bags, says a report to be published today by a green think tank.

The paper by the Optimum Population Trust will say that if couples had two children instead of three they could cut their family's carbon dioxide output by the equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.

John Guillebaud, co-chairman of OPT and emeritus professor of family planning at University College London, said: "The effect on the planet of having one child less is an order of magnitude greater than all these other things we might do, such as switching off lights.

"The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child."

It's curious, though: Britain and pretty much all of the western European countries aren't producing enough children to replace themselves. In the United States the birth rate per child-bearing woman is only a skosh above 2, barely replacement level. In Spain the birth rate is below 1.3 children per woman. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that, barring other factors, Spain will just fade away after a while.

No mention that the poplulation is only growing in most western countries because of immigration. This thesis is bogus.

Next, now we get to the real heart of the matter: mankind itself is an evil virus:
Species work interdependently to develop mutually beneficial strategies that maintain and strengthen ecosystems. Every species removed diminishes the system and weakens the collective body of the biosphere.

Humans are presently acting upon this body in the same manner as an invasive virus with the result that we are eroding the ecological immune system.

A virus kills its host and that is exactly what we are doing with our planet’s life support system. We are killing our host the planet Earth.

I was once severely criticized for describing human beings as being the “AIDS of the Earth.” I make no apologies for that statement. Our viral like behaviour can be terminal both to the present biosphere and ourselves. We are both the pathogen and the vector. But we also have the capability of being the anti-virus if only we can recognize the symptoms and address the disease with effective measures of control.

Those are the words of Paul Watson, founder and President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Here's what he recommends:
We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion. We need to eliminate nationalism and tribalism and become Earthlings. And as Earthlings, we need to recognize that all the other species that live on this planet are also fellow citizens and also Earthlings. This is a planet of incredible diversity of life-forms; it is not a planet of one species as many of us believe.

In this case, I have to agree with Ann Coulter:
"Global warming" is the left's pagan rage against mankind. If we can't produce industrial waste, then we can't produce. Some of us — not the ones with mansions in Malibu and Nashville is my guess — are going to have to die. ... If we have to live in a pure "natural" environment like the Indians, then our entire transcontinental nation can only support about 1 million human beings. Sorry, fellas — 299 million of you are going to have to go.

Next ... oh, gawd! Something else is killing the planet!
Travel: the new tobacco

The founder of Rough Guides now believes that our addiction to 'binge flying' is killing the planet

Mark Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides and the man who encouraged a generation of travellers to pack a rucksack and explore the world, has compared the damage done by tourism to the impact of the tobacco industry.

Ellingham now says travelling is so environmentally destructive that there is no such thing as a genuinely ethical holiday. He wants the industry to educate travellers about the damage their holidays do to the environment. The development he regrets most is the public's appetite for what he calls 'binge-flying'.

"The tobacco industry fouled up the world while denying [it] as much as possible for as long as they could," said Ellingham. "If the travel industry rosily goes ahead as it is doing, ignoring the effect that carbon emissions from flying are having on climate change, we are putting ourselves in a very similar position to the tobacco industry."

Doesn't it strike you as very difficult to feel guilty about any of this?

One more, one more, from Al Gore:
Gore sees 'spiritual crisis' in warming

05/05/2007 11:12 PM CDT

Anton Caputo

Playing equal parts visionary, cheerleader and comedian, Al Gore brought his message of how to fight global warming to a capacity crowd of receptive architects Saturday in San Antonio.

The former vice president referred continually to a "new way of thinking" that is emerging in the country and offered hope in the battle to control the effects global warming will have on the planet.

"It's in part a spiritual crisis," Gore told the crowd in the Convention Center at the American Institute of Architects national convention. "It's a crisis of our own self-definition — who we are. Are we creatures destined to destroy our own species? Clearly not."

His speech was often interrupted by thunderous applause and explosive laughter from the several thousand architects who packed the Convention Center's ballroom.

"I used to be the next president of the United States," Gore deadpanned to the laughing crowd as he introduced himself. "I don't find that funny. Put yourself in my position. I flew in Air Force Two for eight years. Now I have to take off my shoes to get on an airplane."

In between jokes, Gore called for a change in thinking about climate issues and the pollution that causes global warming. He was especially critical of the business community's current focus on quarterly profits at the expense of sustainable business practices.

"That's functionally insane, but that is the dominant reality in the world today," Gore said.

The only one insane is...well, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic said it best:
Perhaps only Mr Al Gore may be saying something along these lines: a sane person hardly.

Finally, sanity. The dean of American meterologists, Wisconsin's own Reid Bryson, Emeritus Professor and founding chairman of the University of Wisconsin Department of Meteorology, has a lot to say to the global warmists:
Bryson is a believer in climate change, in that he’s as quick as anyone to acknowledge that Earth’s climate has done nothing but change throughout the planet’s existence. In fact, he took that knowledge a big step further, earlier than probably anyone else. Almost 40 years ago, Bryson stood before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and presented a paper saying human activity could alter climate.

“I was laughed off the platform for saying that,” he told Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.

In the 1960s, Bryson’s idea was widely considered a radical proposition. But nowadays things have turned almost in the opposite direction: Hardly a day passes without some authority figure claiming that whatever the climate happens to be doing, human activity must be part of the explanation. And once again, Bryson is challenging the conventional wisdom.

“Climate’s always been changing and it’s been changing rapidly at various times, and so something was making it change in the past,” he told us in an interview this past winter. “Before there were enough people to make any difference at all, two million years ago, nobody was changing the climate, yet the climate was changing, okay?”

“All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd,” Bryson continues. “Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air.”

And the air is suddenly clearer. Don't let the global warmists grind you down!

Friday, May 04, 2007

I have no words

Do we in the Western world consider ourselves civilized? We are certainly aware of the distant and the not-too-distant past history of the Christian religions. And there are some who see no moral difference between Christianity and Islam.

So what do you think?
The moment a teenage girl was stoned to death for loving the wrong boy

3rd May 2007

A 17-year-old girl has been stoned to death in Iraq because she loved a teenage boy of the wrong religion.

As a horrifying video of the stoning went out on the Internet, the British arm of Amnesty International condemned the death of Du’a Khalil Aswad as "an abhorrent murder" and demanded that her killers be brought to justice.

Reports from Iraq said a local security force witnessed the incident, but did nothing to try to stop it. Now her boyfriend is in hiding in fear for his life.

Miss Aswad, a member of a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi, was condemned to death as an "honour killing" by other men in her family and hardline religious leaders because of her relationship with the Sunni Muslim boy.

The link also contains video of the death of the young girl. You've been warned.

Jerry was a man

That's the title of a 60-year-old short story by Robert Heinlein. It relates the successful attempt by a shady lawyer to get a genetically modified chimpanzee declared human in court.

Life imitates art:
Activists Want Chimp Declared a 'Person'

May 4 12:24 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria (AP) - In some ways, Hiasl is like any other Viennese: He indulges a weakness for pastry, likes to paint and enjoys chilling out watching TV.

But he doesn't care for coffee, and he isn't actually a person—at least not yet.

In a case that could set a global legal precedent for granting basic rights to apes, animal rights advocates are seeking to get the 26- year-old male chimpanzee legally declared a "person."

Hiasl's supporters argue he needs that status to become a legal entity that can receive donations and get a guardian to look out for his interests.

"Our main argument is that Hiasl is a person and has basic legal rights," said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on behalf of the Association Against Animal Factories, a Vienna animal rights group.

"We mean the right to life, the right to not be tortured, the right to freedom under certain conditions," Theuer said.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Does anybody still think Venezuela is a socialist paradise?, II

This story goes right along with Chavez' plan to drop three zeroes from the currency next February:
Chavez Threatens to Nationalize Banks

May 3, 4:53 PM (ET)


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday threatened to nationalize the country's banks and largest steel producer, accusing them of unscrupulous practices.

"Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost," Chavez said. "If banks don't agree with this, it's better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and not to speculate and produce huge profits."

It was not clear if Chavez was only referring to Venezuelan banks like Mercantil Servicios Financieros CA and Banco Provincial SA, or if he was also aiming the threat at major international banks with subsidiaries in the country, such as Citigroup Inc. (C) and Spanish banks Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBV) and Banco Santander Central Hispano SA. (STD)

You see, if the banks are nationalized then the devaluation of the currency can go smoothly and the government can prop up the banks quietly without a fuss. Well, not as much of a fuss as with commercial rather than government-run banks.

I remember wishing that Oregon would have passed its universal health care scheme (an 11% payroll tax to pay for it) back in 2002. Then we could all watch as the experiment unraveled. But now we have a whole country turning into a "socialist paradise" at top speed and we all get to watch its demise.

Oh, did I mention that Chavez has threatened to nationalize the Sidor steel company, too?
Sidor "has created a monopoly" and sold the bulk of its production overseas, forcing local producers to import tubes and other products from China and elsewhere, Chavez said.

"If the company Sidor ... does not immediately agree to change this process, they will obligate me to nationalize it," Chavez said.

"I prefer not to," Chavez added, as he ordered Mining Minister Jose Khan to depart immediately for the company's headquarters and come back with a recommendation with 24 hours.

I like the sop he gave to Sidor: "I prefer not to" nationalize you. But just to make sure you're paying attention, I'm dispatching my Mining Minister to make sure you get the message.