Thursday, December 31, 2009

THE WORST PIECE OF LEGISLATION IN MY LIFETIME

I must confess that the more I read of the health care reform bill that just passed the senate this morning, the more it grows on me.

Unfortunately, that growth is a cancerous tumor, one that will be impossible to excise once this God-awful monstrosity becomes law.

More here.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fire Napolitano

Understandbly, the White House is trying very hard to get out in front of the would-be Christmas bomber story. The head of the Department of Homeland Security isn't helping. I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the pevious appearance.

It is her basic position that the "system worked" because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was "foiled" by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically. I would wager that not one percent of Americans think the system is "working" when terrorists successfully get bombs onto planes (and succeed in activating them).

More.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is the Reid Bill is Unconstitutional?

I was talking to my friend and fellow blogger Matt James about this very subject last night. Sure enough, along comes Richard Epstein, one of the most impressive legal scholars in America to make the case that the Senate bill has serious Constitutional flaws.

His crituique is thoughtful, well reasoned and in my opinon clearly wrong. Professor Epstein makes a devestating argument that Reid's bill borders on the profoundly stupid. Fair enough as far as it goes. But I think his application of Duquesne Light Co. v. Barasch, 488 U.S. 299 (1988) to the instant matter is badly flawed.

We remain in my view, free to drive our economy off a cliff. The Supreme Court won't save us.


The article is here.

Trotsky: Behind the Myth.


Trotsky has always been something of an icon for the intelligentsia, and it is not hard to see why. He fitted the perception that dissenting intellectuals like to have of themselves. Highly cultured, locked in struggle with a repressive establishment, a gifted writer who was also a man of action, he seemed to embody the ideal of truth speaking to power. The manner of his death solidified this perception, which has shaped accounts of his life ever since.

Trotsky was a charismatic leader whose appeal extended across the political spectrum. When Trotsky was on the run from Stalin, H L Mencken offered to give him his own library (Trotsky refused because he did not want to be indebted to a reactionary). The Bishop of Birmingham signed a petition on Trotsky's behalf, and he was invited to become rector of Edinburgh University. Maynard Keynes tried to secure asylum for him in England, a campaign supported even by the power-worshipping Stalin-lover Beatrice Webb. Literary notables like Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy joined the chorus of adulation. A hero-martyr in the cause of humanity, Trotsky deserved the support of every right-thinking person.

This has never been a terribly plausible view of the man who welcomed the ruthless crushing of the Kronstadt workers and sailors when they demanded a more pluralist system of government in 1921, and who defended the systematic use of terror against opponents of the Soviet state until his dying day. Introducing a system of hostage-taking in the Civil War and consistently supporting the trial and execution of dissidents (Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries, liberal Kadets, nationalists and others), Trotsky never hesitated to endorse repression against those who stood in the way of communist power. This much has long been clear, but the full extent of Trotsky's role in building Soviet totalitarianism has not been detailed - until now.

More here.

Climategate: McIntyre and the ‘Divergence Problem’

If the full Briffa series had been included, the figure would look rather different. The hook upward, the blade of the hockey stick, would have been much less dramatic, the implied global warming much less significant. By truncating the data as they did, the global warming looks much worse.

And as the Climategate emails show, this was the result of a long discussion of how to best deal with “pressure to present a nice tidy story.” A story that fit the IPCC’s political goals, whether it suited the science or not.



Read the whole thing. It's helpful for understanding some of the issues relating to the "hockey stick" graph which suggested sudden, drastic global warming.

The Bilingual Ban That Worked.

In 1998, Californians voted to pass Proposition 227, the “English for the Children Act,” and dismantle the state’s bilingual-education industry. The results, according to California’s education establishment, were not supposed to look like this: button-cute Hispanic pupils at a Santa Ana elementary school boasting about their English skills to a visitor. Those same pupils cheerfully calling out to their principal on their way to lunch: “Hi, Miss Champion!” A statewide increase in English proficiency among all Hispanic students.

Instead, warned legions of educrats, eliminating bilingual education in California would demoralize Hispanic students and widen the achievement gap. Unless Hispanic children were taught in Spanish, the bilingual advocates moaned, they would be unable to learn English or to succeed in other academic subjects.

California’s electorate has been proved right: Hispanic test scores on a range of subjects have risen since Prop. 227 became law. But while the curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry has removed a significant barrier to Hispanic assimilation, the persistence of a Hispanic academic underclass suggests the need for further reform.

More.

Energy-efficient traffic lights can't melt snow.

Photo taken after a fatal crash in Oswego, Ill. on April 6, 2009. Source AP/Oswego Police.

MILWAUKEE – Cities around the country that have installed energy-efficient traffic lights are discovering a hazardous downside: The bulbs don't burn hot enough to melt snow and can become crusted over in a storm — a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death.

"I've never had to put up with this in the past," said Duane Kassens, a driver from West Bend who got into a fender-bender recently because he couldn't see the lights. "The police officer told me.


Too bad really. I tend like this sort of clever sort of gadget that offers real cost savings (unlike a lot of hair shirt environmentalism which tends to be about feeling like you're doing something). In real life, there are lots of unforeseen variables that can erase any savings in the blink of an eye.

More.

h/t The Wife.

Making Criminals Out of all Americans.

The 1988 law at issue aims at public corruption and corporate misconduct, but sweeps far too broadly, criminalizing schemes to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

If that language seems a little, well, intangible to you, you're not alone. Hurling hypotheticals, the justices strained to find a limiting principle that could prevent the law from covering an employee reading a racing form on the clock (Stephen Breyer) or calling in sick to go to a ballgame (Antonin Scalia). Of some 150 million workers in the United States, Breyer told Drebeen, "I think possibly 140 million of them would flunk your test."

The court's struggle with the "honest services" statute points toward a larger issue: the burgeoning problem of overcriminalization.


Read the whole thing.

London Street Scenes (1903).

Pascal's wager for the new age.

Below is a very brief summary of the conclusions from the climate scientists themselves -- those who believe in man-caused, catastrophic global warming.

  • The globe warmed about 0.6o and the oceans rose about six inches in the last hundred years, according to the U.N. IPCC. (I use Celsius throughout unless otherwise noted.)
  • We are now in what is called an interglacial period, or the time between ice ages. Previous interglacial peaks were three degrees warmer than now. In Antarctica, these previous peaks were actually six degrees warmer.
  • Since the last ice age, the oceans rose about four hundred feet. Most of that occurred before the pyramids were built (and well before modern use of fossil fuels), but the trend for hundreds of years up to the present has been rising sea levels.
  • The sea ice of the south polar ice cap has grown in the last thirty years.
  • Climate scientists have fairly recently recognized a climate cycle they now call the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. "The cause of the oscillation is not well understood, but the cycle appears to come round about every 60 to 70 years." They think this is why temperatures over the last eight years or so do not show the continued warming their models predicted. This and other cycles (Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Niño, La Niña) are not included in the IPCC climate models.
  • The sun does appear to account for "at least 10 to 30 percent of global warming measured during the past two decades," according to two Duke University physicists. While they were quick to remind us "that their findings do not argue against the basic theory that significant global warming is occurring because of carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse' gases," they note that IPCC-type climate models do not include any solar influences.
  • The "ice caps" on Mars shrank over all three years of initial observation by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions, 2005-2007.
  • Glaciers in the northern hemisphere generally have been shrinking for about seven hundred years, while those in the southern hemisphere have been shrinking for the last sixty-five hundred years. (You might notice that those times precede the modern use of fossil fuels.)
  • Himalayan glaciers, 230 of the largest mid-latitude glaciers in the world, have been growing since at least 1980.

One could go on. Remember, these are the things that climate alarmists generally concede. So far, I see only slight warming and sea-level rise, nothing that looks unprecedented for an interglacial period, and nothing that looks unnatural. Everything is totally consistent with a planet that is near an interglacial peak and following cycles of various periods (from one year to 40,000 years) that are "not well understood."


More.

The 35-Year War on the CIA.

For the past 35 years, American liberals have attacked and vilified the CIA with a fervency that borders on holy war. Their antipathy toward the CIA and its works has been reflected in Hollywood films from Three Days of the Condor in 1975 to Rendition in 2007; in popular thrillers like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy published in the 1980s, as well as the Matt Damon movies based on the novels that came out in this decade; and in lengthy nonfiction exposes of CIA misdeeds by leftist critics like John Prados (Safe for Democracy: The CIA’s Secret Wars)and David Wise (The American Police State). In this view, the CIA has conducted itself around the world in monstrous fashion—sometimes in the service of a barbaric chief executive and sometimes to undermine a purer president—and in ways that merit and justify hatred of the United States outside our borders.

This war has also been enshrined in one disastrous liberal-led “reform” of the CIA after another. The wreckage reaches back to congressional hearings conducted in the 1970s, to the disastrous cutbacks in CIA activities under Jimmy Carter, and to the Clinton administration’s ban on sharing intelligence between the CIA and domestic law enforcement.

So what is it about the CIA that makes liberals and Democrats lose their common sense? The FBI’s record of abuse of American citizens’ civil liberties is far longer and more egregious, as its treatment of Martin Luther King suggests. During Vietnam and other contentious periods of the Cold War, the FBI opened far more secret files on Americans and conducted far more unauthorized break-ins and wiretaps than the CIA could ever have contemplated. Yet the FBI has never been subjected to quite the same relentless serial abuse on Capitol Hill or in the popular culture as the CIA. Indeed, the Obama administration is not the first to send in the FBI to rescue the CIA from itself.

One cannot deny that Republican administrations have made disastrous decisions regarding the CIA as well. And there is no covering over the fact that the CIA has sometimes been its own worst enemy—not least when it decides to act on the advice of its liberal critics. At any rate, a serious examination of this implacable hostility toward America’s leading spy agency on the part of the American Left over the course of the past 35 years reveals a great deal about the nature of modern liberalism itself and its often self-destructive course.



More.

Something New To Worry About: Anthropogenic Continental Drift.

There are of course, two sides to everything.

Now, everyone knows that continental drift is a natural, ongoing process of the Earth, just like climate change.

The continents, and the tectonic plates they are attached to, shift about and grind into each other, causing mountains to be rucked up into the sky and volcanoes to erupt, and earthquakes, and other geologic shit of this nature.

What you may not know is that this process, while unstoppable, can be slowed down tremendously. We can save lives this way, and more importantly, beachfront property. But we haven't been doing it.
Our inaction in saving lives- and some really sweet bungalows- is tragic. Tragic.

How can we slow down this destructive process?
One word, friends: friction.

How do we enhance the natural friction that keeps these gigantic continents from slippy-sliding all over the place, crushing everyone that you love and burying their wicked bitchin' summer rental cottages in hot lava?

We need to extract the dangerous lubricants that are hiding deep in the Earth.

Right now, under the ground, possibly thousands of feet under your very...uh, feet...are vast deposits of a black, menacingly slippery substance that scientists refer to as 'oil' [TX pron: awl].

We gotta get that shit out of there, stat! Our recalcitrance in this regard is frustrating and downright dangerous. The time to act is now.

No matter the cost, humans must find a way- with specialized pipes and pumps, perhaps- to reduce these vast deposits of 'oil' that imperil us all.

Who knows? We may even find a use for it.



More here.

Ah, Those Thoughtful, Nuanced Democrats.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) helpfully explains that those opposing Obamacare are birthers and fanatics in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups.

Simply astonishing.

The polling on this is now at 41% for, 51% against. Howard Dean, Keith Olbermann, Jane Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas have all come out against it. I had no idea the right-wing fringe was so inclusive.

Climategate: The Perils of Global Warming Models

Here’s a surprise: These public interpretations are influenced by such factors as political, religious, environmental, financial, and scientific opinions. In their public revelations, do the interpreters explain all of their underlying biases? By now you know the answer: absolutely not.

When these are introduced into the equation we obviously have strayed so far from scientific fact that it is not even in sight anymore.

So we need to think very carefully before we take major actions (e.g., spend a few trillion dollars based on climate predictions, wind energy projected performance, etc.) that are almost entirely based on computer models.

What to do? Should we just scrap all computer models?

No, that’s the other extreme. Computer models have merit — but shouldn’t be the tail wagging the dog.

More here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wow.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Conservatives, Political Correctness and the Academy.

I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is, but I do think it’s clear that many product liberal-leaning institutions, starting with the universities, are sufficiently engaged in groupthink that they lack the most basic curiosity about or knowledge of what their ideological adversaries believe, and are instead inclined to dismiss them entirely as mere evil reactionaries. [And they are sufficiently isolated from contact with conservatives that they don’t have personal experiences to suggest otherwise; it’s easy enough, for example, to go to a top university, on to a major journalism school, and from there to the New York Times or MSNBC or The Huffington Post without every having had a serious intellectual discussion with a conservative colleague or mentor.] That’s not good for the universities, it’s not good for liberals themselves (isn’t easier to defeat one’s enemies if one first understands them?), and it’s not good for America.

More here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

This is Not Your FDR's Federal Government.

My father was the head of a trade association for the heavy construction industry, and most of my closest relatives either work for the government, or have done so in the past. As you can imagine, over my lifetime I've had a lot of conversations about government procedure and government projects. Every so often I'll read some description of a project out of the olden days--the battle against malaria in Panama, the handling of the Great Mississippi Flood, or the creation of the WPA--and just marvel at how fast everything used to be. The WPA was authorized in April of 1935. By December, it was employing 3.5 million people. The Hoover Dam took 16 years from the time it was first proposed, to completion; eight years, if you start counting from the time it passed Congress.

Contrast this with a current, comparatively trivial project: it has been seventeen years since the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor was established by USDOT, and we should have a Record of Decision on the Tier II environmental impact statement no later than 2010. This for something that runs along existing rail rights of way, and in fact, uses currently operating track in many places.

More.

John Brown Dead, Slavery Marches On.


We like to think that our world is making progress, that as humanity develops technologically and economically we are also developing morally and socially. The rise of the new slave trade challenges that easy, comfortable assumption. True, slavery is not as economically important today as it was in the nineteenth century when the slave-dependent cotton industry provided cheap raw materials for the cutting edge textile factories that led the Industrial Revolution. And it is also true that while there are more slaves today than ever before in world history, the percentage of the world’s population held in slavery seems to be in long term decline.


But slavery today is by some measures more brutal and more soul destroying than it was in the past. The brothel industry in particular, subjecting millions of young women and children to repeated multiple rapes night after night for years at a time, is organized on a far larger and more extensive scale than it was in the past — and slaves make this industry possible.


Climategate – it ain’t just about the weather.

That is why Climategate is so important. It is the Watergate of our times that has, if anything, more ramifications than the original, which largely affected just Richard Nixon and his immediate coterie. It is – to choose an in this case wildly ironic cliché – the tip of an iceberg. This iceberg does not definitively disprove the possibility of man’s influence on global warming (or cooling, for that matter). Anyone who says that is almost as irresponsible as those who say AGW is “settled science.” Well, not quite. But the scandal has changed the game in the crucial area of information flow and has forced the media and politicians to confront, at least for the moment, the issue of transparency.

Transparency, however, is not just about the issue of global warming. It is about myriad issues in our society, including healthcare, the economy with its attendant stimulus plans and education, to pick just a few that come immediately to mind. Indeed it affects practically everything. Transparency is, again ironically, like the weather – the thing that everybody talks about but nobody does a thing about. Our President promised it, others pay lip service to it, but no one does it.

More.

Here's some of the back and forth we had on this on Facebook today.

Salvatore Reda
Global warming Is a myth! What is really happening is that earths magnetic field is getting weaker.

Matthew V. Topic
I find these attempts to dispute the existence of global warming utterly terrifying.

Michael Stajduhar
Based upon your extensive background as a climate researcher? Or are you taking it on faith that the scientists who we now know smeared dissenters as well as hiding and destroying evidence, wouldn’t lie to you? Climategate is far from a slam dunk for the "there is no global warming" crowd. But at the very least, reasonable people should catch their breath and be a little skeptical. We should be that way with all things actually. We should look at the evidence and ask are there other possible interpretations of this data set. The case for Global Warming boils down to this:... See More... See More1) It's getting hotter2) The rise in temperatures is historically unusual.3) If it keeps getting hotter at this rate the impact on the world will be catastrophic.4) Most or all of the warming is caused by man5) With sacrifices we can stop or even reverse it.A very large number of people have grave reservations about any number of these propositions. Trying to demonize them isn’t defending settled science (there is no such thing). It’s attacking free thought. Until Climategate 2-5 seemed very much open to question. It was for example much hotter in the middle ages than even the worst predictions for today's global warming. The world didn't end and it probably wasn't caused by cars...since they didn't have any. Most likely the warm period was caused by increased solar activity...just like what we saw for most of the 20th century. Odd coincidence that. As to claim #1 we now have actual evidence of data manipulation, tossing out of raw data so no one else can check it and other shenanigans. Frankly before we decide to destroy the global economy in the name of Mother Earth, I'd like to see a little...um...what’s the word...oh yeah, proof.about a minute ago ·


Matthew V. Topic
Your analysis fails to account for the differences in risk between (1) incorrectly concluding that human-caused or human-worsened climate change exists, and (2) incorrectly concluding that it does not exist. Seems to me that there is plenty of evidence raising at least a real possibility that it exists. Maybe that evidence is wrong. But I'd much... See More, much, much rather us be a (1) than a (2), and as each year passes with no significant action, we both increase to cost of correcting (2) and decrease the possibility of even being able to fix it if we want. We lack the luxury of awaiting the level of "proof" the deniers insist upon. A better analysis is to say that until it is proven that carbon emissions DON'T cause global warming, we should contain the emissions. Why is the burden of proof placed on the assessment that actually tries to avert the worse outcome? And re smearing, the Bush administration removed the gloves long ago, so it's too late to complain about the rules of engagement, right or wrong. Finally, prove to me that the global economy would be "destroyed."


Michael Stajduhar
Well the levels of taxation being proposed, coupled with increased regulatory burdens on industry amount to a hit on peoples personal standard of living of roughly 50%. Obviously these burdens will be shared unequally. Cyber-savvy law school types like ourselves will probably do ok. Coal miners, not so much. In any case a whole bunch of people will be a lot poorer...forever. With regard to burdens of proof, in science extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether "there is no global warming" is more outlandish than "global warming is gonna kill us all if we don't do X by Y date". Rather than remind you that in 1979 Global Cooling was being called "settled science" I'll simply say that those claiming that doom is imminent are the ones demanding sacrifices therefore the burden of proof rests with them. There can be no other reasonable rule. If I were to say "The Vogons are going to destroy Earth with their death ray...unless you give me $200.00" (please note I am not suggesting the Vogons are about to destroy earth...as evil space aliens go, they seem pretty nice). Here we have the possibility of extraordinary harm to the Earth and everyone on it, which can be mitigated by you pay a modest amount of extortion...I mean "Green Lifestyle Fee". Sure maybe the Vogons won't blow up the Earth, maybe they don't even exist...but maybe they do! How can you be so selfish and not want to protect the whole world for a measly $200.00? Surely since the risk of harm from a Vogon attack is so great the burden is on you to prove they don't exist, thus obviating the need for protection money.... See MoreIf you represent Amce Corp, major producer of widgets and you get a call from someone who says "Your widgets gave me cancer", I'd imagine that one of the questions you want to ask the plaintiff is "do you have any evidence that widgets cause cancer?". I also imagine that you be kinda frustrated if the response was "can you prove they don't?". As for the Bush administration politicizing science, while I'm not a huge fan the charge mostly arises from their failure to muzzle or fire people who...ummm...are not entirely convinced global warming is going to kill us all.


Matthew V. Topic
If there are some credible experts who believe that there is a non-trivial chance that Vogons actually exist and have the capability to destroy us, we should pay the $200. Therein lies the distinction between the climate debate and your analogy. Your widget/cancer analogy is completely off the mark as there are no plaintffs or defendants in the ... See Moreclimate policy debate. A better analogy would be whether the consumer product safety commission should require safety measure on widgets that a consensus of scientists believe are likely to cause cancer. There's no 100% certainty that lead paint will hurt my children, but I still don't want in my kids' toys.Do you really contend there is no evidence supporting the claim that humans are contributing to global warming? I thought the argument was that it hasn't been sufficiently proven, which is something else entirely. And I fail to see why the status quo of carbon free-for-all is entitled to a presumption of correctness simply because it's tradition.What's your source for a 50% reduction in standard of living? And does it include an offset for the increase in the standard of living amongst the poorest people of the world, the ones which are believed likely to suffer the greatest harm from global warming? I'll even let you discount that by a reasonable percentage of likelihood that global warming doesn't exist (let's say 50% to make it easy).

Maxx Goff
Coterie, isn't that the guy in charge of walking people to a table in a high end joint?

The Architect as Totalitarian.


Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy.


Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.


The great climate change science scandal.

THE hacking scandal is not an isolated event. Instead it is the latest round of a long-running battle over climate science that goes back to 1990.

That was when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the group of scientists that advises governments worldwide — published its first set of reports warning that the Earth faced deadly danger from climate change. A centrepiece of that report was a set of data showing how the temperature of the northern hemisphere was rising rapidly.


The problem was that the same figures showed that it had all happened before. The so-called medieval warm period of about 1,000 years ago saw Britain covered in vineyards and Viking farmers tending cows in Greenland. For any good scientist this raised a big question: was the recent warming linked to humans burning fossil fuels or was it part of a natural cycle?


More here.

Prehistoric Barbie


Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078


Dear Sir:
Thank you for your latest submission, labeled "93211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post...Hominid skull." We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago. Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety that one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be "Malibu Barbie." It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings. However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:


1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.


2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified proto-homonids.


3. The dentition pattern evident on the skull is more consistent with the common domesticated dog than it is with the ravenous man-eating Pliocene Clams you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time.


Probably just an urban legend but more here.

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Climategate Who's Who.