Friday, December 25, 2009

Brief Hiatus

Sunday I will be leaving to move cross-country for business reasons. During the move and the time it takes to get resettled, I will not have regular, dependable access to the internet or to my computer, so there will be no updates here at A Is A for (hopefully) a brief time. I'll be back to blogging and commenting on the absurd as soon as I can.
In the meantime, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the season, love your families, and stay safe.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some Problems With The Climate Change Debate

I've spent the last few days participating in some online forums discussing Anthropogenic Climate Change and I've come up with a short list of what seems to me to be some of the biggest problems in the debate. Keep in mind that some of these issues can also be applied to any controversial, hot-button debate.

1. Appeals to Authority prove nothing and science does not run on consensus. If every scientist but one says that the sun moves around the Earth, the one who says the opposite is still right.
2. If Recorded Data plus Your Theory does not equal Observed Temperatures then Your Theory is wrong. Math does not make mistakes, but people who think they know more than they do make them often. No amount of "compelling evidence" can change this fact. In truth, if the math is wrong, this proves that you do not understand the "compelling evidence" as well as you claim.
3. If your own records and measurements show that the global mean temperature has been on a long-term warming trend for thousands of years then pointing out that the earth is still warming is not exactly Breaking News. Claiming that it will warm at an increased rate is not the same thing as demonstrating that it is warming at an increased rate.
4. Settled science stands up to scrutiny against all currently available data. It might be proven false (and become, once again, unsettled) with new data at some future time, but it cannot be shaky with current data and be considered "settled". Attempting to split hairs on the scientific definition of "proven" does not alter the scientific definition of "settled". The Laws of Thermodynamics are settled science. The Big Bang theory is not. Please take note of the differences.
5. If the centerpiece of your argument is "Anyone who disagrees with me is morally inferior" then there is probably something seriously wrong with your argument. The reality of "everyone with Opinion A is morally righteous and and everyone with Opinion B is morally inferior" is so vanishingly rare that this argument is almost never justified. By the same token, if your argument relies on "everyone who says X really means Y" then you are also most likely wrong. While some people do function this way, most people say things remarkably close to what they actually believe. When someone presents an argument for why they believe a certain way, pretending they have not done so - whether or not you agree with their opinion - does not magically justify your position.
6. You cannot justifiably demand that people only listen to respectable scientists and claim that anyone who disagrees with you is automatically not respectable. This is a form of circular logic and the only thing it proves is that you are not interested in honest debate.
7. Expecting people to accept your theory as evidence for your theory is also circular logic. If your evidence for catastrophe is modeled projections of what will happen, but these models are based on your theory, you don't actually have evidence. You have your theory, stated twice. We cannot debate your theory by first agreeing to assume your theory is correct.
8. Demanding that the people who are not arguing for radical and/or expensive change must prove you wrong really is not how this game is played. If you are the one demanding radical and/or expensive change then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that this change is justified. I do not have to prove that a multi-thousand-year trend will not dramatically change in the immediate future. You have to prove that it will.
9. Demanding that everyone change everything to suit your theory before you have proven your theory to be valid doesn't make much sense. Declaring the argument to be over when people are still asking for evidence doesn't prove anything. When your theory relies heavily on predictions that have repeatedly not come true and forecasts that cannot be tested, you might want to rethink declaring the debate to be over.
10. Claims that an increase in global mean temperature will have environmentally catastrophic results when the historical record demonstrates the exact opposite also doesn't make much sense. While there are certainly temperature thresholds that would be catastrophic, not even worst case scenarios in AGW predictions come anywhere close to those numbers. Most of the scientists involved freely admit that their worst case scenarios are highly unlikely, so arguing for even worse cases scenarios is irrational and dishonest. By that token, it is extremely dishonest to excoriate the other side for using inflammatory scare tactics when you are using inflammatory scare tactics yourself.

There you go, my Top Ten list for problems with the Climate Change debate.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When Numbers Don't Add Up

For the last few months I have, off and on, been presenting you with phrases to watch out for, to know when someone is spouting nonsense and should possibly have his or her entire opinion considered suspect. Today, I bring you another such phrase: "Americans overwhelmingly support this plan."
First of all, the phrase is ludicrous because there has rarely been any plan that Americans "overwhelmingly" supported. Here's a hint for those who are linguistically challenged: 2%-3% majority is not overwhelming support. For today's discussion, however, we're not even talking about that small a majority. In fact, we're not talking about a majority at all.
I'm referring, of course, to the health care debate. It should come as no surprise that I follow news on this debate fairly closely and also that I spend a considerable amount of time on the comments sections of these news stories to see what the "regular" people are saying. "Americans overwhelmingly support this plan," is a comment I see rather often and, I have to admit, I'm wondering about the medication levels of the people who say such things. These comments tend to come either from people who are giddy about the prospects of their favorite bill passing with no problems (apparently oblivious to the wrangling and difficulties that are reported daily) or from people who are angry with politicians not instantly falling in line on their favorite bill (apparently oblivious to the sheer numbers of people who have voiced concerns with the bills in question). The real problem here is that these people are pulling these overwhelming numbers out of their dreams.
According to the most recent polls (most from mid-to-late November with the Rasmussen poll being from this past weekend), there is no overwhelming support for the health care plans currently under discussion. There isn't somewhat-in-favor support. There isn't even the smallest majority support. When asked their opinions on the current plans under discussion, every major poll finds more people opposed to than in favor of.

Rasmussen 41% in favor 51% opposed
Gallup/USA Today 44% in favor 49% opposed
Washington Post/ABC 48% in favor 49% opposed
Associated Press 41% in favor 43% opposed

You'll notice that I'm showing polls from both the left and right side of the political spectrum and none of them show the slightest majority in favor, let alone overwhelming support. In the interests of being fair, that AP poll does show that 86% of Americans favor doing something to reform our health care system. Perhaps that is how these people are coming up with the "overwhelmingly support" claim. Americans overwhelmingly support reforming our health care system in general. However, that same poll only shows 41% approval for the specific methods of reform currently under discussion. Yes, people want reform. No, they do not want this reform.
That has been my point all along. Contrary to the lies being perpetrated by the far Left, being opposed to the current plans under discussion does not equal being in favor of the status quo. It does not equal being in favor of sky-rocketing prices. It does not equal being in favor of just letting people die. It equals being opposed to the current plans under discussion, nothing more and nothing less. News flash: More people are opposed to the current plans under discussion than are in favor. That should be cause for concern and should clearly indicate that we need to re-examine the current plans under discussion.
These people are operating under the idea that it is better to do anything at all than to do nothing, and that has always been a bad ideal. It is politically expedient, mushy, feel-good thinking that has caused more harm in history than it has ever done good. Following this thinking opens up the way to making things much worse because it makes intentions, rather than results, the guiding factor. We need to stop this headlong rush to "do anything" and make sure that what we're doing can actually have good results. Lying about overwhelming support isn't going to help anyone when reality comes to collect the bill.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Confusing Reports - Very Important!

I'm reading about the new CBO report on the Senate health bill and I have to admit that I'm confused. Democrats (and most left-leaning news sources) are praising the report as a boon to their cause, but it sure doesn't look that way to me.
According to the New York Times, "Before taking account of federal subsidies to help people buy insurance on their own, the budget office said the bill would tend to drive up premiums." Subsidies would drop the premiums by 56% to 59%, for those who receive subsidies but, for those who don't receive subsidies and have to buy insurance on the individual market (the self-employed and those who cannot buy insurance through an employer), there would be an average increase in premium costs of 10% to 13%. Those who buy insurance through their employer should expect relatively no difference in premium costs, according to the CBO. Wait a minute! Aren't those who can't get insurance through their employer exactly who this reform is supposed to be helping? And these are the people who can expect a 10% to 13% increase in premium costs. What a way to be helpful!
It gets worse, though. The budget office says, "the proposal would tend to increase premiums for people who are young and relatively healthy", in other words, the very people who wouldn't even ordinarily be buying insurance if they weren't being forced to do so. So not only are we forcing people by law to buy something they don't want, we're also forcing them to pay more for it than it should cost. While we're at it, we are penalizing the young and healthy, the very people who, by all natural standards, should be able to expect lower health insurance costs, the people who should be rewarded for not being high risk.
Indiana Senator Evan Bayh claims, "This study indicates that, for most Americans, the bill will have a modestly positive impact on their premium costs." Most Americans? Are you honestly going to try to tell us, with a straight face, that "most Americans" will be receiving federal subsidies? There is not a subsidy program in this country, of any type, that even a quarter of Americans qualify to receive. There is less than zero chance that this subsidy program will apply to "most Americans" and that the cost of that subsidy will be kept down to $450 Billion over 6-8 years (the CBO places the cost of the subsidies - not counting any other costs - at $450 Billion over the next 10 years but the subsidies don't even go into effect until 2014 or 2016, depending on which version of the law you read, so they really don't get to count the first 2-4 years).
This latest report makes it even more clear that we are being lied to. This bill will not result in universal coverage (despite being the claimed goal, it has been admitted from the beginning that this would not happen), it will raise health care costs for many Americans, and - if the accuracy of past CBO estimates on major federal programs is any indication - it will raise the deficit. Congressional and Senate Democrats are lying, plain and simple.
I don't deny that some form of health care reform is necessary, but this boondoggle isn't it. Please spread the word and do not be misled by the positive spin being applied by the Democrats and the media. This report states, in its own words, that young and healthy people will pay more for health insurance. This report states, in its own words, that those who do not receive federal subsidies will pay more for health insurance. This report states, in its own words, that this reform will not help the people this reform is meant to help. I don't care which side of the debate you're on. Read the report, not the spin, and realize that you're being sold a bill of goods. You're being lied to and it's about time you got angry!

Those Pesky Numbers Again

I came across a comment that simply must be addressed.

"During 2001 the IPCC made a number of predictions as to what would happen as a result of the climate change. It now turns out that the actual effects measured today are _worse_ than what was predicted. For example, the rise of the ocean level is 80% greater."

This is shoddy science at its worst and the fact that this meme is actually catching on is disturbing, to say the least.
First of all, I have to laugh at the use of "For example". The writer is apparently unaware of the fact that the claimed 80% increase is the only one of the 2001 predictions that is being held up as coming to pass. It is, in fact, the only one being talked about because none of the other predictions are even coming close.
So has there been an 80% increase in sea level measured in recent years? In words of one syllable of less, no, there has not. The only way this 80% number is achieved is by using two different sources for the beginning and ending figures. The 2001 predictions were based on tidal gauge measurements. The current claim of an 80% increase is based on satellite measurements. Anyone else notice how those two sentences do not contain the same words?
The difference here is important. We have been collecting data from sea level tidal gauges for over 200 years in some places (for example, data exists for Amsterdam as far back as 1700). We only began using satellites to measure sea levels in the mid-to-late 1990s. If you're counting, that's just over a decade, which is where a major problem comes in. According to studies using the larger tidal gauge data set, sea levels can vary widely from decade to decade and it requires multi-decade observation of data in order to identify discernible trends and understand the margin of error. We haven't been collecting satellite data for decades - we've only barely started the second decade of satellite observation of sea levels - so we cannot make accurate trend predictions from nor do we have anything resembling an accurate margin of error with satellite sea level measurements.
What makes this situation worse is that data from the two sources do not agree with each other. We are told that satellite data indicates an 80% increase, but that uses tidal gauge data as a starting point, and using tidal gauge data as an end point indicates no increase at all. I repeat: If you use tidal gauge data for the starting point and tidal gauge data for the ending point, there is no measurable increase in the rate of sea level rise. Tidal gauge data shows a sea level increase of approximately 1.8 mm per year for the last century and tidal gauge data still shows a sea level increase of approximately 1.8 mm per year. There seems to be something funny in this 80% math.
There are those who will claim that satellite data is more accurate than tidal gauge data. That may or may not be true, but it doesn't alter the point here in the slightest. Satellite data could be the most accurate data ever collected in the history of data collection and it would still be wrong if it used disagreeing, non-satellite data as its starting point. Tidal gauge data indicates sea levels and sea level increases far below those indicated by satellite data. If you're on a diet, do you use two different scales calibrated in different manners and to different degrees to determine your starting weight and how much weight you lose over time? Of course not! You don't have to be a climatologist or a physicist to know that would not give you accurate results, yet that is exactly what is being done with this 80% increase claim. There can only be one logical result when you start with a source that is measuring low and end with a source that is measuring high: a grossly inflated and highly inaccurate "increase".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Health Care Realities

The online edition of USA Today carried an article this morning that did not paint a rosy picture for those pushing for health care legislation in America. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted over the weekend, 42% of respondents are opposed to passage of a bill as it stands and only 35% are in favor. While the article does not specifically say, I assume that the other 23% fell into the undecided category. There aren't too many surprises when the polling is broken up by party demographic demographics, with 76% of Democrats being in favor and 86% of Republicans being opposed. What is a touch surprising - and should be more than a touch alarming for the Powers That Be - is that 53% of polled independents were opposed. Independents are often the barometer and deciding factor in American politics and are credited as having been a large part of Obama's victory. If we are starting to see a majority independent opposition to the discussed health care bills, that should be a worrying factor for those pushing the bills.
I should note, for my overseas readers who may not be aware, that USA Today/Gallup polls tend to slant slightly to the left, meaning - in this context - that they would be more likely to err in favor of the health care bills. Please notice that I said "slightly" and don't mis-characterize that or assume that I am accusing them of anything. Everyone leans some direction at least slightly and I state this only so that it is known that I am not posting the results of a poll stacked against health care reform. These polls don't lean nearly as far left as ABC or Huffington Post polls, and they don't lean right like Rasmussen. Just consider this a Full Disclosure situation.
While I found this poll to be interesting, I found the comments to be even more interesting (Don't I always?). The most interesting thing about the comments was the fact that the vast majority of them - and I mean something approaching 99% - had absolutely nothing to do with the article. Here we had an article clearly and only about the public opinion on a given subject and most of the comments were nothing more than the same Copy&Paste "Republicans are evil and want you to die" or "Democrats are evil and want to enslave you" nonsense that dominates most of this debate. It's no wonder we can't get anything done when no one knows how to address the subject at hand.
Here's a test: When faced with the statement, "The majority of Americans polled are opposed to health care legislation as it is currently being discussed", how do you respond?
A. Republicans have sold their souls to the insurance companies and will do anything they can to maintain the status quo.
B. Democrats have sold their souls to the trial lawyers and will do anything they can to transform America into a socialist state.
C. We should find out why the majority of Americans are opposed and either change the legislation accordingly or better explain those parts that are currently misunderstood.
If you answered A or B then you need to go stand in the corner and remain silent for the rest of the debate because you are obviously incapable of having an adult conversation. An honest debate requires that you actually acknowledge and address what you are answering and, if you cannot or will not do that, you should not be part of the debate. Blithely parroting some popular slogan in response to every question asked or statement made doesn't help anything.
Allow me to give another example that drives me insane: "Where were you for the last 8 years?" If this question is coming out of your mouth or off the tip of your fingers - and it pops out dozens of times every single time someone points out the legality or Constitutional issues of some political action - then you need to stop and reconsider what you are saying. For one thing, many of us who complain now were complaining then and your insistence on ignoring this fact only makes you look willfully ignorant. It's not like there aren't plenty of online sources you can easily check to find conservative and independent voices speaking out against Bush policies. For another, and more important, thing, even if not one single voice complaining now was complaining then, does that really address the issue of the moment? Assume, for the sake of argument, that Bush really did every evil thing liberals accuse him of and that no conservative or independent voices spoke out against these actions. Would that give Obama a free pass? Is that really what you intend with this question? Are you truly willing the ignore Constitutional and legal issues out of petulant spite?
I titled this post "Health Care Realities", so I should return to that particular subject. Easy enough since one of the off topic comments on that USA Today article caught my attention more than others. It purported to be a list of unarguable facts regarding health care legislation, and we all know how much I love lists of "unarguable facts", so let's examine them.

"1. This reform will not cover illegals or abortions."
This may be technically true as it stands now - though arguments can be made about enforcement with no teeth - but these two conditions are currently being hotly debated, so it is impossible to state as fact what their status will be in any final legislation.
"2. This reform will cost $130 billion less than not changing anything."
If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell. For starters, the CBO estimate did not claim that legislation would cost $130 Billion less than doing nothing. It claimed that a particular piece of legislation would reduce the deficit by $130 Billion over a given period of time. These are very different claims. Also, please identify one government program that has ever had an accurate cost estimate. These things inevitably cost more than their initial estimate and, when the initial estimate is over $800 Billion, $130 Billion can disappear in the blink of an eye.
"3. This reform will give preventative care to millions."
Give? Interesting choice of words. While technically true, this "fact" neglects to mention the millions of others who will be taken from to provide this gift.
"4. This reform will only raise taxes on the wealthiest people in this country, and they will still have cheaper taxes than they did under Reagan."
This is not only not a fact, it is a blatant lie. Among the taxes under consideration are taxes on businesses - including small businesses who are nowhere near the wealthiest in the nation - and taxes on so-called "Cadillac plans", many of which are held by middle class workers who happen to have jobs with people who have negotiated very good insurance policies. It is also arguable - and, I maintain, true - that any mandate requiring the purchase of insurance by people who choose not do so is, itself, a tax, and that is a tax that will affect many non-wealthy people.
"5. Tort reform will not lower the cost of health care as proven by Texas."
One state out of 50 proves the case for the whole? Interesting math you have there. Amusingly enough, even the CBO disagrees with you. While it might be arguable that tort reform would have a limited impact on lowering health care costs, it cannot honestly be argued that it would have no impact. It's also worth noting that those universal health care countries you people champion all the time all have some form of tort control as well.
"6. Interstate insurance is another way of saying, 'Take away state rights and give big government more power.'"
This, coming from someone who wants to hand control of the entire enchilada to big government. That's just too funny. Newsflash: The Constitution specifically allows for the regulation of interstate commerce. You may have heard that mentioned here and there.
"7. The #1 reason for unemployment in this country is the cost of health care."
What? See, even if you had tried solid arguments up to this point, you really lost credibility here. I suppose the banking and mortgage fiascoes that precipitated a full scale recession come in 2nd and 3rd? Never mind the fact that it is legislation currently under discussion that would link the cost of health care to employment, not the situation as it exists now.
"8. Poor people who get free ER visits will have to purchase insurance and pay something towards the public option. Even if they pay next to nothing, it will still be more then they pay now."
True to some extent, but there will also be subsidies covering many so they will still be getting free treatment and contributing nothing. In fact, the technical wording of this "fact" is false since "poor people" will be the ones receiving the subsidies and will still be paying nothing. It might also be argued that, since they will now have coverage, they will seek treatment more often and so actually cost the system more, rather than less. I'm just guessing here, but so are you. Neither of us is offering a fact on this one.
"9. People who are against this plan have no plans for themselves except "tort reform" and "interstate insurance", both of which I have already mentioned as bad plans."
And because you think they are bad plans, they are bad plans. Except that you didn't actually support the claim that they are bad plans and you haven't supported the claim that these two pieces are all the opposition is offering. There have been more than a dozen Republican and Independent plans put forward and dismissed or ignored. Do you honestly believe that these two options, reworded over and over again, are all those plans have offered?
"10. Insurance companies are spending more money to stop this reform, from the premiums we pay them, than ever before in the history of this country. They care about their bottom line and not about America."
They spent quite a bit in the 90s, so it's certainly debatable whether or not they are spending more than ever. However, it's their money. It doesn't matter if that money came in as your premiums, it's still their money. The money you spent at the grocery store doesn't continue to be your money after it's spent either. What I would be more concerned about is how much of my money the Democrats are spending to push the legislation. There is a difference, you see. That tax money they're spending actually does belong to us. Your last point is just a non-statement. Caring about the bottom line is their job. Caring about America is not. Don't get me wrong. Given a choice between a company that provides quality products/services and cares about America or a company that provides quality products/services but doesn't care about America, I'll choose the former whenever I can. That isn't really the point here, though. The point is that caring about the bottom line is not unAmerican, as you've tried to imply. Caring about the bottom line is one of the very things they are paid to do.

So much for facts. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It would be nice, though, if people tried to focus on facts in such an important debate.

Monday, November 23, 2009

UK Government Cashing In On Green Lies

I wouldn't take nearly so much issue with the modern environmental movement if it wasn't so completely characterized by lies, hypocrisy, and fear-mongering misrepresentation of facts. I believe in taking care of the environment. I believe in the principle of "don't foul your own nest". I have always believed in recycling. I have always abhorred littering and waste. I was an environmentalist before being so was fashionable. However, I refuse to be associated with the absurd lies and manipulations of the modern movement.
It's too bad that governments don't feel compelled to be bound by such high standards.
The United Kingdom has launched a new environmental propaganda website, Act On CO2, that is meant to tell people the "truth" about climate change and correct any myths that might be floating around. It's quite a shame that the site actually perpetuates the myths instead of doing anything about correcting them.
If you go to the very first tab, "Climate change: the facts", and then click on the very first subject heading, "Rising temperatures and the greenhouse effect", the very first thing you'll see is the usual fear-mongering paragraph unsupported by any facts. Worse, actually, what little "facts" do get introduced are used in an extremely misleading manner.
According to this paragraph, "In the last 100 years the Earth has warmed by 0.74°C (and by 0.4°C since the 1970s) ..." This would be the misleading use of facts. Can it really be true that I somehow have so much greater an understanding of math than the average reader in the UK? You can't compare ".74 over 100 years" with ".4 since the 1970s". 1970s? 1970-what? 1971? 1975? 1979? Believe it or not, when figuring with such small numbers, knowing the exact starting figure used is very important. The math shown here also does not make clear if the temperature increase has been .4 per year, .4 over the given years, or what. Math is a precise, unambiguous language and using it in such a sloppy fashion demonstrates either sloppy or unethical workmanship from those involved.
[If math gives you a headache, you might want to skip the next paragraph. Fair warning.]
For the record, I did the math as best I could, using their sloppy figures. Assuming we take, as a starting year, 1975 and round up so that we are dealing with a 40-year period, and assuming an average per year temperature increase of .0074 (since they didn't include their baseline figure in this schlock, I had to take the expedient of dividing their .74 temperature by 100 years - this estimate will be off because of the implied increase over the last 40 years, but I can't know how far off because they didn't include the necessary data - however, at such small numbers, it cannot possibly be too far off). Using that .0074 as a baseline, we find that the expected 40-year increase for this century would be .296. Since we are, by necessity, estimating, we can easily and properly call that .3. So we expected a .3 increase over a 40-year period and got a .4 increase. That's 1/10th of a point higher than expected. Well within the margin of error ratio for any accepted statistical polling. That's an above-expected increase of only .0025 per year. Those numbers don't sound nearly as dramatic when expressed properly, do they?
[End of math paragraph. Those of you who dislike math may continue reading now.]
That mangled math sentence goes on to say, "meaning that global sea levels have gone up, glaciers and sea ice has melted, floods and droughts are on the increase, and heatwaves are worse." Where to begin. Where to begin.
If we go to "The effect of climate change on the UK", we get an expansion on the sea-level rise claim that will help to show the misrepresentation of facts here. "The sea-level rise across the UK is projected to be between 20cm and 80cm by 2100." Sea levels have been rising since the end of the last Ice Age. They have been relatively stable for the last 2-3000 years only in comparison to the first several thousand years. They have still been rising. 19th Century sea level rise is estimated at an average of 1.8mm per year (I know, I know, math again, but it will be minimal this time). In order to reach even the smallest of those UK estimates, the rate of sea level rise would have to increase by a factor of at least 10 and it would have to do it soon. So is sea level rise speeding up? Not according to the physical evidence. Sea level rise today is still estimated at 1.8mm per year. Satellite data would seem to indicate a sea level rise of 3.1mm per year over the last decade (even if true, still an increase by a factor less than 2, far from 10), but we have only been collecting satellite data since 1993, barely over 10 years. According to the same study that established these theories, conducted by Simon Holgate of the U.K.’s Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in 2007, sea level rise has fluctuated dramatically from decade to decade since 1904, which means that one decade of Simon Holgate of the U.K.’s Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory data is nowhere near enough to draw long term conclusions. The fact remains that tidal gauges, the same technology used to achieve the previous estimates, have not shown any increase in the rate of sea level rise.
Glaciers and sea ice have been melting. What no one wants to mention is that they've also been re-freezing and that they've been doing both at the same time, depending on where you look. Antarctic ice (both sea and land-based) is actually increasing, not decreasing. In some areas, Antarctic ice levels are currently above seasonal norms. If decreasing ice in one part of the world automatically means warming, doesn't increasing ice in another part of the world automatically mean cooling? Of course it doesn't work that way, but that's what the alarmists want you to believe on their side of the equation. The truth of the matter is that we haven't been studying or observing major ice sheets anywhere near long enough to truly know what "normal" is or to know what either the melting or the freezing means. We're just guessing, and everyone wants you to believe that the guesses of their side carry more weight than the guesses of the other side but it's not true. Without scientific data to support it, a guess is a guess is a guess, and there is currently a severe shortage of scientific data.
The rest of that alarmist nonsense is just that: nonsense. There is not one piece of evidence that the rate of floods or droughts has increased anywhere. As far as I have found, this website does not make mention of this funny little "fact" anywhere else either. There is plenty of talk about the floods and droughts that "will" come, but nothing at all to support the claim that they are already occurring. They don't really say anything else about the heat wave claim either, except to make mention of a seasonal heat wave that occurred six years ago (and has not been repeated) and then claim that such heat waves will become normal by the 2040s or 2050s. If you're not expecting this for 30-40 years, why is your opening paragraph claiming that it is already happening?
If a government is going to publish facts, it should publish facts. This mixed up propaganda piece is not facts. It's an attempt to scare people into playing along before the Copenhagen talks. I'm not sure what the tax situation is in the UK, but I definitely think they should be wondering about their money being wasted on this fluff piece. If such shoddy work is the best the alarmists can muster, it's no wonder they're most famous for huge meetings that generally accomplish nothing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hottest Scandal In Ages

What may turn out to be the biggest scandal in the climate change debate since that debate began has exploded across the internet. If you haven't seen the headlines yet, it appears that an unknown Russian hacker broke into the database of The University of East Anglia's (England) Hadley Climatic Research Centre and published to the internet thousands of documents and emails, all related to climate research and all previously unseen by the public. (I should state here, for the record, that the hacker is assumed to be Russian because the original ftp source for the leaked documents was on a Russian server, but no one, to my knowledge, has yet claimed credit.) I haven't gone through the documents myself - according to sources, there are nearly 4,000 documents, not counting emails - but excerpts indicate that there are numerous discussions of hiding or manipulating data, deleting potentially troublesome emails, uncertainties among the scientists themselves, and methods for discrediting and sidelining scientific journals not supportive of prevailing theories.
That all sounds pretty juicy, though everyone is still quick to tack on the "alleged" part, since no one has actually confirmed that the documents are real. Of course, no one has actually denied the legitimacy of the documents either. In fact, Philip Jones, the Director of the CRU and frequent star of the emails in question, has confirmed the reality of at least some of the emails, though he has claimed, both, that they are taken out of context and that he does not remember the context. How does one make both of those claims at once?
The spin is already out. The skeptics are cherry picking the documents; it's a publicity stunt to derail the upcoming Copenhagen talks; scientists may say things more openly in "private" emails but that doesn't undermine the research itself; etc.
I'll point out again that we're talking about 4,000 documents plus emails. The hack (which, by the way, has been confirmed) took place three days ago. The documents were released today. What kind of army would be necessary to cherry pick through that many documents in such a short time? More to the point, how many documents were actually acquired if they were cherry picked and that many were still released?
I have no doubt that the timing - and thus the accusations of publicity stunt - is quite real and intentional, but so what? If you were trying to get out a message that so many people refuse to hear, wouldn't you time your move for maximum impact as well? I'm sure it makes the spinners feel better, but it doesn't really change the argument.
As for the underlying research, that's a joke. The whole problem is the shoddy nature of the underlying research. Part of what's being discussed in those emails is the very real (and embarrassing) fact that real world data has not conformed to predicted data. Predictive models only have value if they can accurately plot the past and/or their predictions accurately model the ongoing present. Neither of these has ever been true in the ongoing climate change debate! There has not been a single climate change model that has accurately plotted climate patterns of the past and there has not been a single climate change prediction that has come true. Not one! They have been using, updating, and "improving" these models since the 1970's, and they haven't gotten a prediction right yet.
The alarmists will continue to spin and they will do their best to dismiss this scandal, but there is a growing number of people who have legitimate doubts. This scandal may mean much to them. If nothing else, it will underline and exclamation point the fact that the alarmists are not the neutral, honest, scientific observers they claim to be.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Is Ayn Rand?

So we've established that math is no longer taught in our public education system and now, apparently, neither is reading. I read a book review yesterday in the New York Times, written by Adam Kirsch (a senior editor for The New Republic) and supposedly reviewing Anne Heller's book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. I say supposedly because, aside from quoting a few passages from the book, there is nothing in this review that reads at all like a book review. There is no opinion given. There are no comparisons of "this is good" and "that is not so good". This review says nothing about the book. Instead, it only tries to make a statement about Rand, conveniently enough, the same statement the book apparently makes. Beating your political drum is not how you write a book review, last time I checked.
Worse, the statement made about Rand is blatantly false and gives the distinct impression that neither writer actually bothered to learn a thing about Rand before deciding to speak against her. I'm going to give you an excerpt from the review in a moment, but I need to preface it with some background in order for it to make sense.
If you have read Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, you are already wholly familiar with the climactic John Galt speech toward the end. If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, that one speech is nearly as long as many novels and is the encapsulation of everything Rand was trying to say through the course of the book. She spent two years writing that section alone. Needless to say, when editors wanted her to cut the speech, she wasn't interested. Instead, they reached a compromise where Rand would give up seven cents per copy sold from her royalties in exchange for the pages needed to print the entire speech. Considering the fact that she built a financial empire on the strength of that novel, it's a safe bet that she made the right decision.
Now for the excerpt:

"Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done. It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre."

First of all, claiming that Rand gave up her royalties is a horrible misrepresentation of what actually happened. She negotiated a deal where she received slightly smaller royalties in exchange for something else she wanted. That is pure capitalism and the fact that these writers claim otherwise indicates that they know nothing about capitalism. The fact that they claim a novelist wouldn't make this decision - the decision to cut a small amount of renumeration in exchange for keeping the work whole - indicates that they know nothing about writing. The only novelists who wouldn't make this trade are the hacks who shouldn't be writing in the first place.
As for the rest of the claim, all I can really say is, duh! Anyone who has read more than ten sentences of Rand's writing already knows this. She didn't love the dollar and she made that clear on numerous occasions. Ayn Rand abhorred dollar chasers, people who thought that acquiring money was the goal. Money, according to Rand, is a symbol. The American dollar is a symbol of trading value for value and meeting as equals instead of master and slave. Rand did not, as Kirsch implies in the review, revere businessmen in her writing while disdaining them in real life. Most of the villains in her books are businessmen! Those businessmen she revered were the ones - and only the ones - who lived up to her ideals. All others received even more scorn than the average "looter" or "moocher". It was not that Rand believed that businessmen were better. It was that she believed they should be better.
Ayn Rand was far from perfect. She had brilliant philosophical axioms but, when she tried to expand on those axioms with corollaries, she tended to get deranged and extreme. She was, in my opinion, an idiot savant. Miraculous genius in some areas, brain dead imbecile in others. In Rand's defense, most of her dumb ideas can be understood in context. She was a child in Russia in the early years of the Communist take over. See if you can live through something like that without going a little extreme on some issues.
Adam Kirsch really wants to speak ill of Ayn Rand. That glows through most of the words in this so-called review. Unfortunately for Kirsch, the most he can come up with is lying about what she stood for, pointing out that her personal life was not as ideal as she would have preferred, and dismissing her characters as being nothing more than "abstract principles set to moving and talking." I think that last part might explain the rest. Apparently Kirsch is one of those pathetic creatures who must believe that everyone else is as venal as he is, in order to justify his own existence. Rand didn't believe in people having to justify their existence and here's a news flash for Mr. Kirsch: Those of us who don't believe we have to justify our existence to the likes of you, those of us who really do believe in high ideals and do our utmost to live by them, those of us who believe that those who cannot produce have no right to dictate to those who can, those of us who believe that the American dollar is a symbol and that it is your perversion of that symbol that has devalued it ... We really do exist. We are not abstract principles and we really are disgusted with the fact that we have to share the world with people like you, who would rather tear us down than get out of our way and let us build up.
If you're going to criticize a writer, you should probably know something about what she wrote first. Of course, why I would expect such standards from a rag like The New Republic is a mystery. I guess I just have high standards. I'm a walking abstract. Well, at least I can read.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Magic Math

I am so sick of magic math. "What's magic math?" you ask. The administration's account of "jobs created or saved", officially released today is a prime example of magic math.
Government officials claim that the $787 Billion stimulus package released earlier this year has saved or created approximately 640,000 jobs across the country, with the vast majority of those jobs being in construction and education. This claim is based on reports filed by recipients of the $160 Billion or so that has actually been spent so far. Though the administration only gets angry if you mention it, though, these numbers are highly contested by analytical experts.
It has been well-documented that there were numerous errors in initial reporting, but the administration claims that they caught and corrected for all of them. If you believe that, I have a bridge I'm looking to sell. We're talking about the same people who have admitted that our healthcare system wastes about $800 Billion a year, with nearly half of that waste being directly attributed to Medicaid and Medicare. If this is the way those people count, you try believing that they caught every error in reports from more than 100,000 recipients. I'm not buying it.
The reality is, this kind of counting can never use anything but magic numbers. Sure, you can count jobs that were created by the stimulus, assuming you're not looking in areas where the creation of new jobs was already being considered, but how do you verify jobs saved by the stimulus? How many of those recipients actually reported, "I was going to fire this many people but, thanks to the stimulus package, I didn't"? It's guessing, plain and simple. Some of it is scientific guessing, guesswork that actually has some verifiable relationship to reality, but much of it is just wishful thinking. History states clearly that there is no rational reason to assume that politicians didn't wish up some higher numbers than reality supports in order to make themselves look and feel better. Remember, the same people who claim confidence in these numbers were the people who claimed confidence in the fact that their stimulus package would prevent the unemployment rate from hitting double digits. How's that confidence working out for you?
If these fictional numbers were all there was to the story, it would be disgraceful, but it would be the same disgraceful story we see every time some politician starts spouting numbers. That isn't all, though. Fairy dust didn't make their number big enough, so they blew on it and made it even bigger.
White House officials are actually claiming that they get to count 1 million jobs, when you add in things that can't actually be measured. Things like the unmeasurable guy who didn't lose his job went to eat at Burger King and that unmeasurably saved the job of some kid serving fries. I'm not kidding. They actually used a stimulus-saved worker spending money at a restaurant as an example of how they came up with that 1 million magic number. They took numbers that can't be verified and added them to numbers that can't be verified and threw out a bigger number that can't be verified that they get to pat themselves on the back for. Magic math.
It's enough to make your head spin, but it's business as usual for the clowns we have in Washington. When they got called out a few weeks ago for pork and bloat-spending in a defense bill - wasting money that's supposed to help our soldiers and using it to make them look good in the home district instead - a spokesman for Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, had the gall to say, "Anyone who suggests this clearly doesn't understand the appropriations process." Mind you, the pork is there and documented, so the only English translation for this statement is, "We do this all the time. Nothing unusual here."
I wish I could say vote them all out and install some people who know how to count, but the odds don't look good for that either. Take a look at this comment I found on the New York Times website the other day, introducing some organizations brainstorm for how to solve the economic crisis:

"First and foremost it calls for the Fed to print a lot more money and pay off the federal debt. It then calls for taking the $400 billion saved on interest payments and using that money to give everyone on Social Security a 20% raise and lowering the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to age 60. This would create an army of young retirees looking to volunteer at the charity of their choice. At the same time it would open up jobs for younger workers."

Print all the money you want to pay off the debt and triple (at least) the number of people collecting Social Security benefits instantly. Do I really need to explain the real world consequences to such an idea? How are you going to pay all those benefits when the value of our dollar crashes to the point where it's only worth will be as an historical exhibit?
Wasn't there a time when we taught math as part of our basic educational system? I seem to recall such a time, though I am beginning to think it was just a hallucination. Lying about your numbers doesn't make you right. It just lets you steal more before the average person catches on. Keep that in mind the next time you see a highly-educated politician spouting figures that are obviously fabricated.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Entertainment Mafia Now Runs The Legal System?

In the 90s, the recording industry went after Napster and tried a case in the media that had no standing in the courts. There was, at the time, no law that declared the downloading of songs to be illegal - it was, at most, a murky gray area waiting for court or legislative clarification - but the recording industry, along with their criminal colleagues in the movie and television industries, hammered the public with the claim that there was until the court of public opinion was so solidly on their side that they could roll right over any opposition. This was followed in 1998 by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), written almost entirely by industry insiders and one of the greatest legal travesties ever foisted upon the American public. The DMCA upended decades (at least) of legal precedent and handed unimaginable power to the entertainment industry, power that is abused on a daily basis with bullying, unjustified "take down" notices and "civil" trials that fine average citizens more for downloading music than corporations get for causing grievous bodily harm. In the middle of this end run around all common sense, copyright ownership, which was intended by the nation's founders to be for a short time and for the benefit of public interests, was extended to "life of the creator plus 75 years". There is not one of these legal changes that benefits We the People, but everyone of them is tailor-made to benefit the recording, movie, and television industries at the expense of We the People.
And it keeps getting worse.
The entertainment mafia has been whining for so long about piracy cutting into their profits that people have stopped listening. (It couldn't have anything to do with poor quality product and the entertainment industry's adamant refusal to adapt to modern business realities, could it?) Now they're complaining about movie rentals cutting into their profits. Rather than attempt to come up with a new business model that addresses this so-called issue, the movie industry's plan is to pressure major rental outlets into accepting a new scheme where movies do not become available for rent until after they have been available for sale for one month. The rental outlets would probably make money on this deal because the only way they would play along is if the movie studios cut them in on a major bulk rate deal for their movie purchases. The only people who would lose out on this price fixing scam would be the rental customers. You don't actually believe the rental outlets would pass along those savings, do you?
The thing is, price fixing is exactly what it would be. If any other industry were colluding in this manner, they would be pounded with the anti-trust hammer. So why is the entertainment mafia immune from such considerations? Never mind the fact that this is one of the dumbest business ideas ever. There is zero chance that making rental customers wait an extra month is going to cause any noticeable increase in movie sales. Rental customers are already used to waiting and most of them will just wait a little longer. For that small percentage that absolutely must see the movie the day it hits DVD? The only logical conclusion is to expect an increase in piracy, the exact opposite of what those geniuses in the industry want.
Of course, maybe it isn't stupid. Maybe a measurable increase in piracy actually is what they want. Then they could use that excuse to flex their muscle and demand laws like the ones currently causing all the rage in Europe. You know, the ones that say that, if you are accused three times of copyright violations, you lose your internet connection for life. Yes, you read that right, "accused" and "for life". How's that for a nice, happy due-process thought?
What's that? You say it can't happen here because we have laws to prevent that? So do they. The European Convention on Human Rights - which, for human rights issues, functions for them much the way the Bill of Rights is supposed to function for us - states categorically in Article 6.2, "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law." I'm not sure whether or not they have "punishment fit the crime" provisions but, since much of our law was based in British Common Law, I'd bet they do. It doesn't stop them any more than it stops us, in some states, from locking up people for life for stealing a pack of bubblegum.
The entertainment industry, as it exists today, is a criminal organization that strives to use force to maintain their profits because they are too lazy to try to run a business. They will continue to do so as long as we let them. Stand up and make your voice heard. Just Say No to organized crime running our legal system.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why We Don't Trust The News

If you like your "news without a perspective" (hint hint jab jab) then this should tickle your funny bone. The other day, the group promoted climate change protests around the world and these protests were, of course, much talked about in virtually every news source available (contrary to the claims of The Nation, which tried to claim they were the only ones giving the subject any play - sound familiar?). In fact, for a couple days, it was more than a little difficult to get away from news sources falling over themselves to see who could praise this group the highest. So much for news without a perspective.
That's not my point here, though, but it does play into it. I have two quotes from two different news sources, both making the same basic claims. I want you to pay attention here and see if you can play Spot What's Wrong With This Picture.
The Nation quoted founder Bill McKibben: "Glaciers and sea ice are melting, drought is spreading, and flooding is on the increase because our planet has reached a proven unsafe level of CO2 emissions," while The Christian Science Monitor quoted Rose Braz of the Center for Biological Diversity: “The Arctic is already melting, sea level is already rising, and polar bears are already dying.”
Isn't that cute? They both said the same thing, though Ms. Braz apparently forgot to mention those pesky droughts and floods. (How exactly do you have increased flooding and increased droughts at the same time with the same cause?) They wouldn't be parroting talking points, would they? Of course not. Liberals hate it when you parrot talking points, don't they?
Both of these "independent thinkers", however, get points removed for making the highlights of their respective speeches items that are patently and demonstrably false. That polar bear story was debunked the day after it came out (out of approximately 20 distinct polar bear communities, the "researchers" only counted 2 and claimed that this was representative of the whole). There has been zero documentation of increased flooding or droughts attributable to climate change anywhere in the world (the computer models predict these increases but that is not the same thing as claiming they are already happening). There has been zero documented increase in the rate of sea level rise (the global sea level has been rising for thousands of years - computer models predict that it will rise faster but, again, this is not the same thing as showing that it is already happening). In short, the only part of these two remarkably similar speeches that actually relates to the real world is melting arctic sea ice and even that is a case of it's melting over here but not over there.
To put it bluntly, both of these people made major claims that are not currently supported by evidence or facts. Yet neither news source so much as mentioned that these claims were controversial. They printed them as fact and didn't offer even a hint of corroboration or fact checking. But these are real news sources, right?
While doing some research for this one, I came across an interesting little factoid that should make you scratch your head. Those people who are talking about sea level increases state that, when the glaciers were melting at the end of the last ice age, the sea level increase rate was approximately one meter per century. According to their predictions, they expect this same sea level increase rate as a result of global warming. Keep in mind that, during the ice age, Manhattan was under one of those glaciers and try to figure out how melting ice sheets less than a tenth the size they were then are going to cause the same sea level increases they caused then.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

The White House has declared war on Fox News. It would be funny if it weren't disgusting. The arrogance of this administration is without parallel. For the President of the United States to not just believe, but to publicly state that he gets to unilaterally declare a major news source to be "not news" is sickening, but for the cheering section on the left to go along with this outrage is terrifying.
The excuse, according to administration officials, is that news should not have a "perspective" and Fox News has a perspective, therefore Fox News isn't news. Seriously? Let me get this straight. A major news program giving up an hour of its programing to promote the administration's policies is news without perspective? A prominent reporter openly insulting conservative protesters during his report is news without perspective? A major news program "fact checking" a comedy skit (a skit performed by liberals, no less - there should be a joke in that, shouldn't there?) is news without perspective? Multiple major news sources running with a fabricated story that smears a conservative pundit for days before they bother to fact check and find out it's false (and even then almost none of them offer an apology or a retraction) is news without perspective? Is anyone seriously claiming to buy this twisted logic?
This isn't about perspective. It's about the perspective people like and don't like. If you have a perspective that approves of the administration, you get a free pass. If you have a perspective that disapproves of the administration then you're "not really news". Don't you love how that works?
Does Fox News have a perspective? Of course they do! Here's a news flash for you: every major news source since Ben Franklin rolled off his first newspaper has had a perspective and an editorial policy of pushing that perspective. They all do it. Fox News is nowhere near unique in this regard. The only thing that makes Fox News unique is that their perspective leans conservative.
If you can't tell the difference between the commentary section and the news section, you should probably turn the TV off. If you don't know that every network has an agenda and that they all filter things through that agenda, you should probably turn the TV off. If you don't know that the White House doesn't get to declare who is and who isn't a news source ... Of course they know that. They were just counting on you not knowing that.
It is at least gratifying to see that, maybe this time, the administration has overreached itself in its arrogance. Kudos to the other major networks for refusing to play along. They knew that this behavior was wrong and they stopped it, even though it could have helped them in the short term. Now if only we could get more Americans to realize that short term benefits do not trump long term damage.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Speaking Out Of Both Sides

The public Option. According to some, it is a cost-cutting measure where the strength of the plan and the power of government work to lower healthcare costs thus, through market competition, forcing other insurance providers to also lower their prices. According to others, it is a back door attempt to push through a government takeover of healthcare where government subsidies keep prices and costs below the market thus preventing other insurance providers from being able to compete and forcing them out of business. In a partial attempt to combat the latter idea, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has stated that they estimate such a public option would only receive about 12 million enrollees, far below any amount that could possibly lead to a government takeover, but doesn't that present another question?
If the public option will only attract about 12 million people and one of the stated goals of healthcare reform is universal coverage (we'll ignore for the moment the fact that not one of the plans on the table even claims to be coming close to this original goal) and the US population is roughly 300 million people ... Can anyone else do the math here? 12 million people isn't even a blip on the radar. The same figure used to defuse fears of a government takeover also clearly demonstrates that the public option wouldn't do a thing to cut costs. At that size it would be virtually invisible in the larger healthcare market. The only way a single provider could have a significant impact on overall pricing is if it were large enough to potentially take over the market. You can't have it both ways and government officials are talking out of both sides of their mouths hoping that people won't notice they are blatantly contradicting themselves. If there is no risk of government takeover through this plan then there is also no possibility of government price controls through this plan. The two are inextricably tied together.
What's most amusing about this, though, (aside from the lies and hypocrisy that are just par for the course) is that pro public option people keep talking about interjecting competition into the insurance market place? Inserting one provider is supposed to increase competition? Do you people know anything about business?
First of all, there is competition in the insurance marketplace. It's stifled, corrupt, and lame, but it's there. Adding a single provider to the mix will do absolutely nothing to increase that competition, even if that provider is the government. "But there are some states that only have one major insurance provider!" You're right. There are. And why is that? Because the law, as it currently exists blocks other providers from other states from entering those markets. If you are serious about increasing competition then strike down stupid laws that interfere with competition. No one on the left will talk about that possibility, though, because "increasing competition" is not really what they want. They're just using a catchphrase to try to lure people to their side. What they really care about is government force - they want the government to use its might to force prices down - but they can't say that because that would be a takeover and saying it would be admitting that the accusations from the other side are correct. The use of such concealing language, however, is an admission that they know they do not have the mandate they claim and they know that a significant percentage of the American population is opposed to the idea of a government takeover. Everything you say, even when you're lying, says something about you. Pay attention and you'll know what they think and why they're doing what they do.
We need reform, but nothing in that nonsense those idiots in DC are writing is about reform. Maybe it started out that way, but it's just political tug-of-war now. They're just trying to score points by looking like they're doing something without paying any attention to whether or not what they're doing is right. Business as usual. And you, the voting public, are eating it up like you always do. That's why it works. If a Democrat promises to spend money to fix a problem then democrats will cheer and vote for him without paying any attention to whether or not the fix was needed or whether or not the expense actually addressed the problem. If a Republican promises to block such an expenditure then republicans will cheer and vote for him without paying any attention to whether or not the fix was needed or whether or not the expense actually addresses the problem. Can you honestly not see what's wrong with this system? No, most of you can't, and that's exactly why we're in the mess we're in.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Zero Tolerance For Zero Tolerance

School district zero tolerance policies are in the news again this week after two boys (both Scouts, coincidentally) in two different school districts were suspended from school after bringing "dangerous weapons" onto school property. In one case, a 6-year-old Cub Scout got overly excited and brought his new camping utensil (an eating tool that combines a fork, knife, and spoon into one devise) to school to use on his lunch. In the other case, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout and U.S. Army soldier (I assume he's a Reservist or Guardsman, but I have yet to find a source that makes this clear) kept a survival kit that happened to include a 2-inch pocket knife locked in his car. In both cases, the boys received the maximum punishment available though, also in both cases, neither boy had anything resembling a disciplinary record before this incident.
In the case of 6-year-old Zachary Christie, the school board did bow to public pressure and lift the suspension, admitting that they needed to rewrite their policy to take into consideration the age and cognizant ability of the student. In the case of 17-year-old Matthew Whalen, however, things are much different and much more appalling.
Whalen did not have a knife on him which, by the way, was the lie told by an unnamed source that started this problem in the first place. Apparently, along with the absence of all common sense, Whalen doesn't get the right to confront his accuser either. The knife was locked in his car inside a survival kit, and it was two inches long. Are you kidding me? I can grab half-a-dozen things in the average car more dangerous than that knife without trying! And every one of them would be perfectly legal.
How many of you keep a toolbox in your car? How many of those toolboxes contain items that would be in violation of this ridiculous zero tolerance policy?
But wait. It gets better.
Despite the claim from Lansingburgh Central School District Superintendent George J. Goodwin, who added 15 days to Whalen's suspension without even bothering to show up for the disciplinary hearing, this school's policy doesn't even have a zero tolerance clause, and it's available online (you have to do a little digging - apparently they don't like having their policies too much in plain sight) for anyone to see for themselves. What was I just saying the other day about how easy it is to catch people in lies in the internet age? The school's policy actually says "may be subject to disciplinary action". May be. Might be. Could be. Nothing about will be. It is completely at the discretion of the man who couldn't be bothered to attend the hearing and who has lied to the press and public about the reason for the suspension. The same man, by the way, who has still refused to meet with Matthew Whalen or his family. I guess Whalen doesn't get to face his judge either.
This case is bad enough with just the above-mentioned details, but we're also talking about an honors student with a spotless record whose goal is to attend West Point. We're talking about a young man with a bright, promising future who is watching that future potentially get flushed away by a man who is making up his own policies and refusing to even discuss them. This high-handed, dictatorial behavior should make you angry. If you live in this district, you should be demanding an explanation and, when Goodwin cannot provide a satisfactory explanation (as I suspect he can't), you should be demanding his resignation!
We put these people in these offices to protect our children, not to destroy their futures based on arbitrary bias. A judge hearing a murder trial is required to hear and consider context. Do our children deserve less? Zero tolerance policies are sucker's games intended to keep lazy bureaucrats from actually having to make real world decisions. I say if you're too incompetent to make real world decisions then you shouldn't be holding such jobs in the first place. Get rid of these lazy bureaucrats and their self-serving rules and maybe we can actually start doing something to improve our education system.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dishonest Criticism

I have already commented on the Nobel Peace Prize and I'm not really going to do so again. If you are rabidly opposed to Obama then you are probably opposed to this award. If you are thrilled with Obama then you are probably thrilled with this award. If you fall somewhere in the middle then your opinion on this award probably falls somewhere in the middle as well. See how that works? It is somewhat amusing to note that more of those middle voices seem to be having a Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot moment with this award than not, but that's a different matter than I want to discuss today.
Today I want to comment on some of the comments, more specifically the loud, screeching chorus on the Left who are insisting that those opposed to this award are just Republicans being obstructionist or the radical Right being opposed to everything Obama-related. There are a number of liberal pundits who are all about, "Why can't the Right keep from screaming about such a relatively small issue?" Fair enough. I have a question for you: Why can't the Left keep from lying about such a relatively small issue?
Those pundits who are trying to dismiss the complaints as nothing more than more screeching from the right-wing hate chorus are either lying or they are ridiculously oblivious to their own industry. How do I know this? Because it takes nothing more than ten minutes on google to find more than a dozen prominent left-leaning or openly Leftist pundits who are also saying that the award was either premature at best or flat out wrong at worst.
Richard Reich (Huffington Post), Maureen Dowd (New York Times), Thomas Friedman (New York Times), Michael Russnow (Huffington Post), Richard Kim (The Nation), David Sirota (Huffington Post and Salon), Mickey Kaus (Slate), Peter Beinart (New Republic), Nicholas Kristof (New York Times), Ruth Marcus (Washington Post), Ezra Klein (Washington Post), Richard Cohen (Washington Post), Gabriel Rachman (Financial Times).
Everyone of these people is either a prominent liberal pundit or a writer who has been known to take the Left side of issues more often than not and everyone of them has publicly denounced this Nobel Peace Prize as wrong, premature, or a bad joke. You cannot convince me that those other paid pundits are so oblivious to their own profession that they don't know what these people have said. That leads to one inevitable conclusion: Those trying to dismiss the criticism of this award as just right-wing smear tactics are blatantly lying. They know there is nothing right-wing about these complaints. Almost every news story on this subject has gone out of its way to mention the fact that liberals are just as confused as conservatives about this award. These people know this and are lying about it, plain and simple.
Why would they lie about Republicans and conservatives in such a public manner and over such a laughable issue? Well, we are talking about the same people who have spent the last eight months flat out lying to the public by claiming that Republicans have done nothing but obstruction on healthcare, all the while ignoring or hiding the multiple bills and amendments the Republicans have put forward. Is this really such a stretch?
The internet age makes it almost impossible for those in the public eye to get away with these lies, yet the lies are parroted all across the internet. Nothing will improve as long as this is the way things are done, but it is up to you to stand up and demand that they tell the truth.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

E-Readers Vs. Mp3 Players

As should come as no surprise, I am an avid reader and an avid researcher. I love the idea of e-books and e-book readers. I love the idea of being able to carry around an entire research library in my pocket (admittedly, as over-sized pocket, but you get the idea). However, I think the execution, as it stands now, requires more than a little work.
An e-book reader is, essentially, an mp3 player for books, instead of for music. There are some differences in function and the requirements of that function, obviously, but the similarities are close enough for comparison and are also close enough to raise some serious questions. Both devices are digital media devices intended to allow you to carry entertainment media in much larger volumes than older, more traditional forms would allow, both devices greatly increase the portability of that entertainment, and both devices can use digital standard formats that have been around for some time now and newer, more proprietary formats. The specific file size of the media in question is also relatively tiny in both cases and the software overhead required is also far from extensive (as well as being well established and fairly standardized).
The major difference between the two devices (aside from the obvious function difference) is that the e-book reader actually does less. The average e-book reader displays text and maybe pictures, usually in gray scale only, and that's about it. The average mp3 player today can play songs and videos, display pictures (usually in full color), and many even have limited text functions (though, granted, far less than an e-book reader, even if the mp3 player were of a size to make it comfortable for that use).
So why does the e-book reader cost more? \
I'm going to compare Amazon's Kindle (currently one of the top ranked e-book readers) and Creative Labs' Zen mp3 player (in my opinion, still one of the best mp3 players). The Kindle, as far as I know, is only available through Amazon and costs $259 US. It has 2GB of internal storage, no expansion slot that I can find in the online documentation (if a Kindle owner can correct me on this, please do so), a 6" gray scale only screen, and dedicated wireless access for instant, online purchase of e-books through the Amazon store. I can buy a Zen at virtually any place that sells consumer electronics and the particular model I'm looking at would range in price from $100 to $130, depending on where I bought it ($130 at Amazon, roughly half of their price for the Kindle). That model comes with 8GB of internal storage plus an SD card expansion slot that would allow me to greatly increase that capacity. The Zen only has a 2.5" screen (completely worthless for reading e-books) but it is full color. The Zen plays both music and videos, displays pictures, and has a limited built-in organizer and a built-in radio receiver. The Zen does not come with dedicated wireless access, but I could purchase an appropriate data package from any wireless carrier in the country for considerably less than $100 a month.
Does anyone else find this disparity confusing?
I realize that part of the problem is the fact that there is a much higher demand for mp3 players than for e-book readers and that higher demand can result in a lower price when it isn't combined with product scarcity, but that only accounts for so much. Higher demand, of course, also tends to increase price, so there is some balancing feature to that demand part of the equation. E-book readers are something of a niche market right now, and that tends to equate to a higher price but they will remain a niche market if something isn't done to address this issue. [As a further demonstration of what needs to be addressed, the average price for an e-book at Amazon is $9.99 while the average price for a song in mp3 format is $.99. As a writer, I fully realize that a novel is a larger product than a single song, but compare the price difference between a CD single (roughly average about $500) and a paperback novel (roughly average about $10, and this is in a novel's cheapest non-digital format) and you can easily see that there is a pricing problem here.]
The portability and convenience of e-book readers means that this market has great potential, if that potential is allowed to develop. Part of what took the digital music market so long to grow (and part of the reason it is still behind where technology would allow it to be) can be attributed to the recording industry dragging its collective feet in that market and doing everything it could to prevent the market from getting off the ground. The book publishing industry is now doing the same thing to the digital book market, but they have even less rational for doing so. The recording industry can at least rely on the relative expense of making music to keep artists chained to the industry. Book publishers do not have that luxury. Modern technology, and especially the internet, makes it so that the only serious advantages a traditional publisher gives to a writer are respectability and advertising.
Book publishers have the perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new and growing market. They should be throwing their weight behind making e-book readers useful and affordable and they should not be letting middlemen like Amazon corner the market and set the rules. The profit potentials are certainly there, if the publishers have the foresight to go after them.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel What???

For anyone who still had doubts that the Nobel Peace Prize has become little more than political grandstanding in recent years, this fact was utterly proven today with the announcement that United States President Barack Obama has been named the winner of this year's award. Liberals across the country are doing a happy dance because this somehow proves them right, but what does it really mean? Absolutely nothing.
Set aside political posturing and partisan bickering for a moment and look at the facts. Nominations for this award were due in by February 1 of this year, by which date Obama had held office for barely eleven days. Short of maybe single-handedly saving the world from an alien invasion, I think we can all agree that it is not physically possible to have accomplished enough in less than two weeks to justify a nomination for what is supposed to be one of the most prestigious awards in the world. The list of "accomplishments" the Nobel Committee claims for Obama were nothing more than campaign speeches at the time he was nominated. Have you ever heard of anyone winning such a high award for campaign speeches? Because I haven't.
To be perfectly blunt, that list of so-called accomplishments is still nothing more than speeches, more than half a year later.
- "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"
Extraordinary? He's made - what? - one major speech on this subject, last week at the United Nations?
- "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons"
Okay, I'll give you this one. He talks about this a lot. But what has he actually done about it? Not much. I'm not saying that he won't, but he hasn't. Perhaps we should wait till he's actually done something before we give him an award for doing something?
- "USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting"
Whether you agree with this particular issue or not, you might want to notice that not one single initiative that Obama has pushed in this regard has actually passed yet. Again, nothing yet but speeches.
- "Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
Notice the key words there: "are to be". It hasn't happened, but it will happen. Hasn't just about every U.S. President ever promised that this will happen? Regardless of what the results actually turn out to be, the prediction by someone is that it will improve democracy and human rights around the world. It rarely works out that way, but the promise is always made. Only this time you get an award just for making a promise.
It may be that Obama becomes a president and world figure who earns a Nobel Peace Prize in the future. His stated ideals and goals - disarmament, climate change action, healthcare, etc - are certainly well within the preferred areas of accomplishment for the Nobel Committee, but there is, as yet, no accomplishment. The Nobel Committee has only cheapened their award with what is blatantly nothing more than political posturing. This announcement says, "You are not Bush and you seem to do things the way we like, so we're going to pat you on the head for it, regardless of what the award is supposed to stand for." Liberals who are cheering this are only reinforcing the stereotype that they care more for prizes than for what is earned. For the record, I have seen some people say, essentially, "I love Obama and do believe that he will earn this award in the future, but this is ridiculous," so I know those people are out there as well.
This is ridiculous. This is, in fact, the kind of condescending, paternal attitude that liberal's get accused of displaying all the time. "I don't care what you've accomplished. Your heart's in the right place so here's a gold-plated cookie." If Obama were half the politician he thinks he is, he would graciously decline the award and ask to wait until he has accomplished more before being nominated again. Can you imagine the brownie points that would score?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Online Banking Safety Reminder

A friend of mine received an email today that was most certainly a scam. This is an old story and most people should be aware of the problems by now, but it still bears repeating, so I'll repeat it.
The email claimed to be from her bank and claimed that her account had been locked due to too many bad password attempts. Please click on this link to access your account and address this problem. If you receive an email of this sort, never follow it's instructions.
First and easiest thing to notice: the sender's email address was not a bank email address. Red flag! When a bank sends you an email, the email address will include some form of the bank's name and probably the department where the email originated. Banks are very particular about this kind of thing, as well they should be. (You can safely assume that the same rule holds true for almost any other company from whom you might receive questionable emails.)
Do not, however, assume that a correct-looking email address means that you have a safe email. There is no difficulty at all in creating a fake email address that looks right but isn't.
The dead give away, of course, is the link. No reputable bank will ever include a Please Click This Link message in their email. Such a link is a hacker's delight and, if your bank is foolish enough to use one, you need to change banks immediately.
When all else fails, if you think you might have a problem, just pick up the phone and call your bank. They deal with this stuff on a daily basis and they would rather you call them than risk the integrity of both your account and their bank.
Never, ever follow the instructions of such an email, but do let your bank know you received it. If you can, forward the email to your bank's security department. They are probably already aware of the scam going around, but they will thank you anyway because the more information they receive, the more possibility they and the authorities have of stopping and catching the crooks. Also, it is remotely possible that you might be the first person to tell them about this particular threat, and it is your money you're protecting.
Online banking is a perfectly safe and valid way to conduct your business. In truth, it is safer and more secure than the over-the-phone banking and credit card use that many of us have known for years. Despite the scares and threats you hear about from time to time, there is no overwhelming problem and what threat does exist can usually be handled by common sense and a little proactive thinking. Just play safe and remember safety and you'll probably be fine.
When in doubt, never hesitate to ask.

An Inspirational Performance

Yesterday evening I had the privilege to attend a concert performance by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. (Before I receive any corrections, I too thought they were called the Marine Corps Band, but the band's official documentation does not use the word "corps", so I am naming them as they name themselves.) We all know that I was Army, not Marines, but I have no problem giving praise where it is due and it is certainly due in this case.
The Marine Band was established by an act of Congress in 1798 and is, thus, the oldest and longest running military and professional musical organization in the country. Their primary mission is to "provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps" and they are the only musical organization, military or otherwise, with such a specific mission. They have performed for every Presidential inauguration since Thomas Jefferson and it was Jefferson, himself, who gave them the additional title "The President's Own".
The Marine Band is not what one might normally think of when considering a military band. It's members are auditioned in the same way that one would audition for any major symphony or orchestra and with the same rigorous standards. Many band members hold advanced degrees in music and they are recruited into the Marines specifically for service in the band. The Marine Band is, in short, both a prestigious musical organization and a proud symbol of American patriotism.
They did not fall short in either regard last night.
The program was a mixture of patriotic music (mostly composed or arranged by Marine Band alumni, such as "The March King" John Philip Sousa) and works from modern American composers (such as Aaron Copland and John Williams) but I almost feel that I have to say the highlight was the beginning. Believe me, you have never heard The Star-Spangled Banner performed in all it's glory until you have heard it performed by The United States Marine Band. The only thing that could have improved that (which I would not learn was possible until later in the program) was if they had it sung as well as performed. It did turn out that they could have done so. The concert moderator, Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Bennear, sang a patriotic medley with the band toward the end of the program, and his voice was the equal of anything I have ever heard from Broadway. I would loved to have heard his take on the National Anthem.
The band was conducted, for most of the performance, by their senior Director, Colonel Michael J. Colburn, and he was almost as much fun to watch as the band itself. His direction was spirited and precise, with plenty of flair but no wasted movement. The Assistant Director, Captain Michelle A. Rakers, and, though I don't believe she was quite up to the caliber of Colonel Colburn, my opinion might be slightly biased here. Captain Rakers directed the single piece by Copland, and I am just not a big fan of Copland's work. It's too busy with not enough focus.
The final name that must be mentioned individually is Master Sergeant Matthew Harding, the band's trumpet soloist. The band performed the allegro con brio from James Stephenson's Trumpet Concerto which is, essentially, one of the most complex and daring trumpet solos ever written, with orchestral accompaniment. The Master Sergeant proved the first part of his rank with his amazing performance on such a difficult piece.
I have never heard this band perform before and I doubt I will have the opportunity again, but I am grateful for this one chance. It was an evening well-spent and a truly inspirational performance. If you ever get the opportunity to see The United States Marine Band perform, take it. Whether you are a fan of this particular music or not (and, you must be able to tell, I am) you will find the time spent to be uplifting and thoroughly rewarding.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Know Why Our Kids Can't Read?

Interesting story in the news over the weekend. A New York mother is fighting with the local school board because they claim their school policy prohibits allowing her 12-year-old son from riding his bicycle to school. We have here the obvious angle of I don't know anything that would give a school board the authority to tell you how your child can and cannot get to school but, believe it or not, there is actually a more interesting (read that as "absurdly stupid") facet to this story. According to Saratoga Springs superintendent Janice White, it's all just a misunderstanding. She says, "The existing policy is worded in such a way that it may lead one to believe that we're prohibiting biking to school."
Is it possible that one of our esteemed public schools has a policy that is so poorly written that such a misunderstanding could happen? Let's look at the policy and find out.
"The riding of bicycles by elementary pupils to and from school is prohibited."
Yep, I can see how such a long and convoluted sentence might lead one to false conclusions. Wait a minute! Ms. White, we seem to have a problem here.
There is no misunderstanding here. This is not a case of "might lead one to believe". That policy expressly states, in words that even a New York politician could understand, that this school board thinks it has the authority to prohibit the riding of bicycles to and from school. I even tried to play lawyer and twist it all around to come up with something else and it can't be done. "The riding of bicycles ... is prohibited."
Do you begin to see the humor here? How about the problem?
How are our children supposed to learn to read if the very people in charge of that education can't read themselves? I'm perfectly familiar with the normal phenomenon of political doubletalk, but that hardly applies here. Someone in charge of teaching young children does not, under any circumstances, get the luxury of claiming that words mean something other than what they do mean!
First of all, kudos to the mom for telling a school board where to stick their arbitrary power grab and for making it public so they couldn't schmarm their was out of it. Those of you in the Saratoga Springs voting district, however, might want to consider finding a new superintendent because this woman is really making you look stupid.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Difference Between America and Europe

I want to clear up some thing because many of my recent posts seem to be giving some people a wrong impression. Either that or people are not reading correctly and assuming I mean more than I say. Fair warning for the future: that is never a good idea. Just because common usage tends to place certain ideas together or under the same umbrella does not mean that I will agree with one because I agree with another nor does it mean that I will disagree with one because I disagree with another. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am neither Left nor Right. The Left irritates me more purely because I believe many of their ideas are more dangerous. Most of the Right's truly dumb ideas are ideas with no traction. They'll never pass so they're not a major concern. Most of the Left's dumb ideas, however, are among their most popular ideas, and that makes them more dangerous.
In this particular context, I'm talking about the healthcare debate. I am not inherently opposed to a state-sponsored healthcare system and, if you pay attention, I've never said otherwise. I do not believe that it is necessarily a bad thing if a wealthy nation chooses to provide healthcare assistance to its citizens and can do so, both financially and within the framework of its own legal system. I am opposed to the lies and hypocrisy that are almost the entirety of the American healthcare debate. I am opposed to the push to ignore the legal framework within which our country is supposed to work. And I am opposed to the level of top-down control that is being pushed on a nation that was not designed for top-down control.
Those last two points are what I want to address here. Whether or not we can financially afford some sort of state-sponsored healthcare system is open to debate but it would be hard to argue that one of the wealthiest nations on the planet can't do it. The sticking point, for that argument, would only be in what changes to current spending would be necessary. Whether or not we can get people to argue rationally instead of spitting and fuming ... Well, unfortunately, I am all too aware that is not likely to happen.
However, the big differences are in our legal framework and our built-in control designs.
For the legal framework, we have the Constitution. Most countries have one, but ours was one of the first of its kind. It has a few flaws because of that, but it has some really great parts too, great parts that later countries didn't always adopt. I freely state that I would have written some things differently, but there is a process for that, if you truly believe that something needs to change and can get enough people to agree with you. Ignoring the Constitution is not an option. When the powers that be wanted to control the behavior of everyone in the country once before, they wrote an amendment (Prohibition). When they realized that was a dumb idea and decided to remove it, they wrote another amendment. That's how this process is supposed to work. You don't just decide to ignore it, you amend it. If you can't get your amendment through the system, you don't get to make the change.
We lost sight of that fact somewhere along the way. I say "somewhere", but I can actually point to the when. It was right around the time FDR essentially declared war on the Supreme Court when they rightly told him that the General Welfare clause wasn't a blank check. That was the first time someone decided that their cause was so just they could just ignore the Constitution and change the entire nature of the nation without bothering with an amendment. Unfortunately, FDR had enough political clout that he was able to pull off that coup, and adherence to the Constitution has suffered since then as a result. The fact that we have forgotten how it legally works, however, doesn't make it right to continue doing it illegally.
The General Welfare clause is not a blank check, any more than the Common Defense clause is a blank check. Both of these clauses are clearly defined in the list of stipulations that immediately follow them. Can the necessities of these clauses change over time? Absolutely! That's what the amendment process is for.
As for top-down control, the United States of America were never meant to be one nation ruled from the top. Notice the word "were" there instead of "was"? That is the proper way to say that phrase because the name, itself, designates the way this country was designed: a collection of sovereign states choosing to act together for specific and well-defined functions. You want the perfect example of what America was intended to be? We created the system of the European Union over 250 years before you did! This is the thing that Europeans and many Left-leaning Americans don't fully understand. America is not a country in the same way that, for example, Germany is. Fashioning a national healthcare system for America would be roughly akin to fashioning a "national" healthcare system for the European Union. I'm sure it could be forced into existence, but how well would the individual member states respond to the Frankenstein's Monster it would be?
It's about population, both demographics and simple numbers. The average European country is about the same size as the Average American state and has about (rough, unscientific approximation here) the same demographic splits. Yes there are demographic differences within a given American state or European country but they are not as pronounced as those differences between different American states or different European countries. Also, what works for one sized population does not necessarily work for a significantly larger population, even if that larger population is made up of the same basic people. When it comes to control of any sort, it is exercised best when it is exercised closest. People tend to not mind so much when their local community tells them that their lawn must be maintained in such-and-such a manner, but let a government official removed by both distance and population make the exact same demand and you'll see people marching in protest. It is a simple and obvious phenomenon. The highest level of control should only be exercised by those people over whom you have the highest level of influence and from whom you can most easily separate yourself if you reach in impasse in what that control should be. If you have a disagreement with your local Community Co-Op or whatever, you can march right up to the director's house and have your argument. Try that with your senator. If your argument fails to achieve a result you can stand, changing communities is infinitely easier (and usually infinitely cheaper) than changing countries.
This is why the United States of America were organized in the way they were and why we, today, have a European Union instead of Europe as one giant nation. The level of governmental control that is taken for granted in Europe simply does not work when you multiple the population 20, 30, 50 times over. Or at least, it doesn't work in any way that we, Americans or Europeans, would accept. Want an example of how it does work? China. Need I continue?
In short, don't assume I stand for anything I haven't said I stand for unless it is an obvious corollary and try to understand that America and Europe are not the same thing. Or maybe they are, just not in the way you're trying to see it.