Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Do You Recognize BS When You Smell It?

First you get the hysterical headlines:

Has the White House interfered on global warming reports?

White House Accused Of Interfering On Global Warming

Then you get the, shall we say, "carefully worded" information:

More than 120 scientists across seven federal agencies say they have been pressured to remove references to "climate change" and "global warming" from a range of documents, including press releases and communications with Congress. Roughly the same number say appointees altered the meaning of scientific findings on climate contained in communications related to their research.

These findings, part of a new report compiled by two watchdog groups, shed new light on complaints by a scattering of scientists over the past year who have publicly complained that Bush administration appointees have tried to mute or muzzle what researchers have to say about global warming.

Notice, that what has been changed are "communications" and "documents." Well, they have to claim that because there has not been a single incident of someone being kept from publishing their work exactly the way they want it in the peer reviewed literature. Not one.

And even the horrified groups have to admit it:

The question is not so much about federal scientists' ability to publish their results in specialized journals that few but their colleagues read, the report's authors say. Instead, the trouble arises when agencies translate "journalese" into language the general public or lawmakers can grasp for use in official government reports or media releases.

Gee, its "not so much" about publishing the research as they see fit? It would have been more accurate to say it isn't that at all! What it is about is curtailing scientists ability to act as political activists. The government has made it harder for scientists working for the government to act as free agents, making public relation cases to the press as to why whatever they study should have a crapload more money. ("Look at the poor drowning polar bears! The sadness of it all is only rivaled by the sorry state of my research grants!")

Of course we are all supposed to be horrified by the actions of the Bush administration, drawing a line between people's public role and their self interest. But should we be? If someone wants to make some research claim shouldn't they be forced to go through the peer review process? Why should employees of the government (which is what they are after all) be allowed to lobby for their own benefit without any oversight? To argue that government scientists are "above" such petty concerns is a lie. Its more than that, it is a damn lie.

And, I love the complaint that few people actually read the published research. It goes a long way to confirming this is more about the scientists' egos than anything else.

Oh and I also love the way the press portrays the "watchdog" group that issued said report, the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The UCS is an environmental group with a longstanding interest in the politicization of science.
Oh my! How noble!

Oh my! What garbage!

The entire purpose of the UCS is to politicize science!!!! And they admit it that there role is, "To help shape the legislative debate on the most important issues of our time" (from the UCS website.) So they don't have any problem with science being politicized, as long as they are the ones doing it.

Look at their Mission Statement:

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions.

Established in 1969, we seek to ensure that all people have clean air, energy, and transportation, as well as food that is produced in a safe and sustainable manner. We strive for a future that is free from the threats of global warming and nuclear war, and a planet that supports a rich diversity of life. Sound science guides our efforts to secure changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices that will protect and improve the health of our environment globally, nationally, and in communities throughout the United States. In short, UCS seeks a great change in humanity's stewardship of the earth.

Whether you agree with this or not, there is no way of getting around the fact that the UCS is every bit as much of a political advocacy group as, say, the NRA or NARAL. To represent them as anything other is a fraud.


There is an interesting tidbit on this over at Prometheus:

The UCS survey does have its own problems. For instance it lumped in budget issues as political interference. Dr. Shindell also did this at the end of the hearing. If not giving scientists enough money is evidence of political interference then what isn't? Here are some representative examples cited in the UCS report about how to improve climate science "integrity" (p. 22):

"I believe that climate research at NASA is being undermined by the current administration. This is accomplished not through direct threats of intimidation, but through lack of funding. . ."

"The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has not received sufficient funding . . ."

"Problems with climate research in the federal government mainly have to do with funding . . ."

"I have not worked directly on climate change since funding was eliminated in my area. Other areas of much less importance have been emphasized as a result."

"Funding for climate research is a factor of 5-10 below critical mass to develop a designed climate observing system."

[This last one is my favorite - $10-$20 billion, right!]
By adding the politics of the budget process into the mix the UCS has revealed that climate science is indeed very political indeed.

So much of this is about money. Who could have possibly guessed that?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Note To Self: Learn How To Commit Photo Fraud Better

Head on over to Michael J Totten's place for one of the worst attempts of Photoshop fakery in a couple of years.

Someone should offer a course in how to do these sorts of things. For starters you cannot use photographs are that easily tracked down on the internet. I know that creates more work for you, the erstwhile photo faker, but that is the price one has to pay for their nefarious art.

And don't say it results from the limitations of Photoshop. A poor workman blames his tools.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I'll Take A Half Dozen No-Doze Long Johns

Science answers another fervent prayer: Scientist develops caffeinated doughnuts

That cup of coffee just not getting it done anymore? How about a Buzz Donut or a Buzzed Bagel? That's what Doctor Robert Bohannon, a Durham, North Carolina, molecular scientist, has come up with. Bohannon says he's developed a way to add caffeine to baked goods, without the bitter taste of caffeine. Each piece of pastry is the equivalent of about two cups of coffee.

While the product is not on the market yet, Bohannon has approached some heavyweight companies, including Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks about carrying it.

This is either the most brilliant thing I've ever heard of, OR it signals the very end of our civilization.

It's scary that I can't decide which....

Maybe I need a doughnut.

The Bunny Had It Coming

Things are a little different compared to when I was in high school: Girls charged with conspiring to kill classmates, Oprah

Six girls at a rural high school were charged with homicide conspiracy after their principal found a list of 300 names and officials discovered online postings suggesting they kill people, authorities said Thursday.

School officials said the list, discovered in a classroom trash can, mostly named students and faculty members but also included Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey and the Energizer Bunny.

C'mon! Who hasn't had murderous thoughts about the Energizer Bunny?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Have No Opinions Today...

...but I do have some links you should check out.

Marc over at American Freedom points to two interesting articles, one on the Danish Cartoon Jihadists, and the other on What has Become of The Left's Lapsed Anti-Facsism?

Powerline has a thought about the relationship of the New York Times and matter legal.

That should keep you busy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Primary Madness

From the DK:

New Hampshire is throwing one of its usual hissy fits over the possibility of Nevada having its caucuses before the NH primary, and looks to reset the calendar to leapfrog not just Nevada, but Iowa as well.

"I believe we should hold the New Hampshire primary the day after the Iowa caucus or on the Tuesday of the week before the Iowa caucus," New Hampshire State Rep. Jim Splaine, a Democrat from Portsmouth and author of the state's election law, told me in a phone interview. "We must protect the traditions of New Hampshire."

That would not please Iowa, which has its own laws and traditions and will always try to move its caucus to be eight days ahead of New Hampshire. New Hampshire has no problem with that, but some in Iowa now fear that in trying to fend off Nevada, New Hampshire will set a date so early that Iowa will be unable to get ahead of it.

Gordon Fischer, former head of the Iowa Democratic Party, is very worried about that possibility. "I don't like Nevada being in there, either," he said. "Everyone in Iowa politics is aware of Secretary Gardner's power. Once you break the historic link between New Hampshire and Iowa, you are asking for trouble, and trouble is what we are going to get."

That frackin' "tradition" is a naked power grab at the expense of the rest of the country. It's one whose days are numbered, no matter how hard NH and Iowa struggle to hang on. And the more unreasonable they are (like in this case), the quicker the day their monopoly ends.

The DNC can fire back easily -- refuse to certify any delegates "won" by the unsanctioned calendar change. New Hampshire would be relegated to "straw poll" status.

The DNC has established punishments for the states and candidates who violate its calendar, but it is toothless: The Democratic convention can change the rules any way it sees fit, and it is not likely to punish the nominee of the party or states that it needs to carry in the general election.

Hogwash. Elections don't hinge on process issues like this one. And if, by chance, they did, then I'll take Nevada's five electoral votes over New Hampshire's four.

I think Kos has this exactly right. (I'll wait while folks get themselves back upright in their chairs.) These archaic primary practices do nothing but handicap the parties using them. If either major party wanted to gain a competitve advantage over the other in 2008 they could do no better than scrapping the old primary system altogether for a more streamlined process. That, of course, will never happen, but at a bare minimum the parties should force Iowa and New Hampshire to drop their childish ways.

A Head Scratcher

Take note of this exchange in the comments section over at TMV:

Marlowecan said,
January 24, 2007 at 6:04 am

In your link you said: "Although a vice president technically serves at the pleasure of the president…"

No. The Vice-Presidency is a constitutional office - voted into office at the same time as the president - and, unlike Cabinet members, does not serve at the pleasure of the president. A president can, of course, drop his running mate from the ticket in a re-election as FDR did to put Truman on the ticket. However, there is no way Bush could remove Cheney from office if Cheney did not want to go. The American people put him in there, not Bush. Impeachment is the only other option.

Which prompted this response from the original author:

shaun said,
January 24, 2007 at 7:43 am


That’s why I used the word "technically" in saying that the veep serves at the pleasure of the prez.

All I could think of was a line from The Princess Bride: "I do not think it means what you think it means."


A Record Breaking Month

As can be seen in the bar chart below, The Iconic Midwest has broken its record for the most unique visitors in any month since it started in November, 2004. I'll admit 689 unique visitors is a modest record (big sites get that every few minutes) but it means a lot to me. I'm not blog rolled by all that many sites, so often times people have to go out of their way to visit here. The fact that we've smashed the old mark of 591 with a week to go in January is encouraging.

A big thanks to everyone who makes The Iconic Midwest part of their week. I promise to continue being very annoying in the future.

This Is The Last Of It...I Swear

OK, just one more. It has been claimed that hurricanes are lasting longer now because of global warming, so I had a look.

The average tropical storm duration in the Atlantic for the last 40 years has been 8.28 days. (Again I'm using data from Unisys.)

Breaking them up we find:

1967-1986: 7.83
1987-2006: 8.74

Aha! It looks like the average length of storms has increased almost a full day (around 11.6%.) However, if we break it down by decade we can see something a little bit different:

1967-1976: 8.37 (1% above 40 year mean)
1977-1986: 7.28 (12% below 40 year mean)
1987-1996: 8.79 (6% above 40 year mean)
1997-2006: 8.68 (4% above 40 year mean)

It would seem to make more sense saying that the decade from 1977-86 had abnormally short storms than to say we are having abnormally long storms now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

..The More They Stay The Same

More hurricane stuff I'm afraid. This time I looked at the top wind speeds of Atlantic hurricanes from 1967 to 2006. I've found a remarkable consistency in measurements over the forty years period that contradicts claims that hurricanes have become more violent because of global warming.

(All measurements are in knots/hour)

40 Year Top Wind Speed Average: 72.52
40 Year Top Wind Speed Median: 72.1

Breaking up the data into 4 ten year periods, I next counted the number of years in each decade where the average wind speeds were above the 40 year median. Presumably we should find that more years above the median should have occurred recently. This is not the case.

1967-1976: 4
1977-1986: 6
1987-1996: 5
1997-2006: 5

Actually, if you look at the average top wind speeds for the first half of the data and compare them with the second half you find they are, for all practical purposes, identical:

Average Top Wind Speed 1967-1986: 72.59
Average Top Wind Speed 1987-2006: 72.45

Actually, the second twenty year period would have been considerably less violent were it not for the outlier that was 1999 (average top wind speed 91.3.) The average for the other 19 years was only 71.46. Taking the top year away from the 67-86 time period led to a 71.99 average top wind speed. Still greater.

With this in mind, I wanted to see what the numbers would look like if we didn't use the highest and lowest numbers from each twenty year period. This would ensure that we did not have outliers masking some otherwise detectable change in intensity. However, all we find is a familiar story:

1967-1986: 80.65
1987-2006: 80.50

Seemingly, the more things (supposedly) change, the more they stay the same.

Of course you might just want to believe things like the following published with all due care and diligence in September 2005 by the World Socialist Web Site: "Studies link global warming with increased hurricane intensity"

Gee, I wonder what the chances are they have a political axe to grind?

The problem is not industrialization and economic growth, but the lack of either a planned economy or regulations

All they would like is a planned economy! Oh, and don't you think for a moment this is some play for political power. Obviously it is what science demands!

How silly of me.

Mardi Gras, St. Louis Style

From the Post-Dispatch: They Might Be Giants will play Soulard Mardi Gras

Longtime darlings of the alternative music scene, They Might Be Giants will play a free concert at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 17. Local cover act Wyld Stallyns will perform at 3 p.m. The concerts will take place at Russell Boulevard and Broadway in Soulard's commercial district. Organizers have expanded Mardi Gras eastward this year to ease congestion in the neighborhood's residential core.

They Might Be Giants is "the perfect band for Mardi Gras," says promoter Mike Kociela of Entertainment St. Louis. "They have a very fun and eclectic feel. That's what Mardi Gras is all about. I think we really nailed it."

Mike, you might be right.

They Might Be Giants is popular enough to lure revelers away from Soulard's bars to the neighborhood's commercial edge. But the pop outfit is not so well-known that it will draw a tidal wave of new fans. Mardi Gras already attracts hundreds of thousands of revelers; bigger crowds are the last thing organizers want.

It is amazing to see how this event has grown over the years. When I was in college I knew some of the folks who organized the early Soulard Mardi Gras events, and back then they were happy to get a couple hundred folks out to see the "parade." (If such it could have been called back then.) I used to go down to McGurk's to see Garvis Matte and The Branch Playboys (from Lafayette, Louisiana) every year, back when you could still get in the building and grab a table at 8 PM.

Now, the party goers number in the hundred thousands, and a lot of folks in Soulard wish no one had ever started organizing such an event.

If I was in St. Louis, and not in the frozen expanse of west central Wisconsin, I think a free show from TMBG would have been just the ticket. They might not be a Zydeco band from Cajun country, but they can play a mean polka.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Adam Smith On A Sunday (UPDATED)

It is strange the things you will come across by just doing a bit of addition. A couple of times people have "critiqued" my hurricane posts by claiming that my analysis was biased because I was looking at Atlantic storms only. The "world wide" story was different, I was assured.

The funny thing was I never saw any articles detailing what the global picture was. I never saw any data in the various stories in the MSM, or saw anything on the cable news providers. So I decided to have a look myself. Using the data collected at Unisys Weather for the six tropical storm basins (Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Western Pacific, South Pacific, Southern Indian, Northern Indian) I found the following numbers of hurricanes/typhoons/cyclones:

1990: 57
1991: 46
1992: 59
1993: 49
1994: 52
1995: 48
1996: 59
1997: 60
1998: 50
1999: 40
2000: 46
2001: 50
2002: 42
2003: 51
2004: 51
2005: 49
2006: 46

The average for the last 17 years is 50.3 storms a year. Since 2000 we have averaged 47.9 storms a year. 7 of the last 9 years have had below average activity, and the other two years were dead on average. We haven't had an abnormally high amount of storm activity worldwide since 1997. Here are the rolling means over the time period:

1990: 57
1991: 51.5
1992: 54
1993: 52.8
1994: 52.6
1995: 51.8
1996: 52.9
1997: 53.8
1998: 53.3
1999: 52
2000: 51.5
2001: 51.3
2002: 50.6
2003: 50.6
2004: 50.7
2005: 50.7
2006: 50.3

The numbers do not lie. We are in a relatively quiet period for these types of tropical storms, if not in an absolute sense (I'll have to push the numbers back further to state that for certain,) at least in a relative sense. The period from 1990-1997 was much more active worldwide than 2000-2006. However, the press would tell us otherwise. We are told that storms are becoming more numerous because of global warming, and we are told we are in an era of drastic changes.

So why are we hearing about this now, when these storms are relatively less numerous and we didn't hear things back in the 1990's? I think part of the reason was outlined by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person...

Thus, while in 1997 the western Pacific was lashed by 24 typhoons, and the southern Pacific by another 13 (both the busiest since 1990), the Atlantic had only 3 hurricanes. In fact, in the four busiest years for storms (1990, 1992, 1996, 1997), the Atlantic had an average of 6 storms (its average since 1946 is 6.15 hurricanes.) To put it simply, we were not interested in these storms because it was not happening to us.

Now flash forward to 2004-05 when the United States alone is hit by 12 hurricanes, and suddenly there is a worldwide problem.

The parochial nature of it all is almost embarrassing.


I've extended the data back to 1982 in the numbers below. This is about as far as I can take the Unisys data I'm afraid. Before 1982 many of the storms in the northern Indian ocean as listed as "unknown." As nothern Indian ocean storms have made up as much as 10% of world wide storms (in 1998), I felt we would lose the apples with apples comparisons if I extended earlier. If I find a better data set for the Indian ocean storms I will expand this work.

Storm numbers:

1982: 46
1983: 39
1984: 47
1985: 51
1986: 47
1987: 40
1988: 39
1989: 56
1990: 57
1991: 46
1992: 59
1993: 49
1994: 52
1995: 48
1996: 59
1997: 60
1998: 50
1999: 40
2000: 46
2001: 50
2002: 42
2003: 51
2004: 51
2005: 49
2006: 46

This makes the average 48.4 storms a year.

Rolling average:

1982: 46
1983: 42.5
1984: 44
1985: 45.8
1986: 46
1987: 45
1988: 44.1
1989: 45.6
1990: 46.9
1991: 46.8
1992: 47.9
1993: 48
1994: 48.3
1995: 48.3
1996: 49
1997: 49.1
1998: 49.1
1999: 48.6
2000: 48.5
2001: 48.6
2002: 48.2
2003: 48.4
2004: 48.5
2005: 48.5
2006: 48.4

Dividing the range in half we get the following averages:

1982-1994 (13 years): 48.3
1994-2006 (13 years): 49.5

That represents a gain of 2.48% since 1994.

However if you look at:

1999-2006 (8 years) : 46.9

That represents a decrease of 2.90% from the 1994 average.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

This Is The American Way of Life?

From QandO:

A few items from the passing scene...

The city of Bangor, Maine is proposing that people who smoke in their car while children are present be pulled over by the police and fined.

The California legislature is considering a law that would prohibit parents from spanking or administering any corporal punishment to any child under three years of age, punishable by up to one year in jail.

New York City has banned the use of trans-fats in any food in any restaurant. Meanwhile, Chicago has banned restaurants from serving foie gras.

New York State is considering a law that will ban the sale of some video games to anyone under 18 years of age.

Staring Jan 1, Texas banned smoking in all foster parents' homes and cars when children are present.

Several school districts, such as the one in Palmyra Pennsylvania, are considering prohibiting parents from providing fast food to their children if they bring lunch to school.

Now York City councilman Joel Rivera wants to ban fast food restaurants from at least some parts of the city.

Do you think your dental hygienist or optician is hot? Wanna ask 'em out? If you live in Washington, then too bad. The new state professional regulations prohibit it. And no fair switching from Pearle Vision Center to Lenscrafters to use a different optician. Because you can't go out with them for two years after utilizing them as your "health care provider".

Its liberty's death by a thousand cuts.

Iraq 2007 = Hungary 1956?

For my money, it is always a good day when a new essay appears on Centerfeud. What they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. Firday's offering is no exception: George Bush, True Democrat:

There is definitely a sense of having slipped into some alternate reality from the one I knew pre-9/11. I remember in early 2001 a sense of foreboding that, with the Republicans having won the White House, there would be a shift back to the realpolitik of Bush I and James Baker. The warnings of the Clinton administration about the strategic threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the urgent need to push for regime change in Iraq would be ignored, and we would continue to treat the Middle East as, in the words of Thomas Friedman, "a big dumb gas station". I fully expected the Republicans to stick to their traditional script, and ignore democratic reformers in the Middle East in favor of the usual dictators, tyrants and strongmen.

I didn't figure on George W. Bush, the most unlikely figure in the world to make democratic reform a centerpiece of Middle East policy. In a post-9/11 world, he concluded that there was no safety in the old "stability", only societies forced to choose between rule by thugs or theocrats, who would continue to demonize the West in order to redirect the anger and resentment of their people against an external "other", i.e. "decadent" democracies. Something had to be done to change that dynamic, otherwise it was only a matter of time before we were confronted with an alliance of terrorist networks equipped by their state sponsors with terrifying weapons that could kill hundreds of thousands and wreak social and economic turmoil. He concluded that confronting dictatorial regimes that were actively pursuing such weapons would be far less costly than fighting them when they had achieved their aims and had become emboldened.

It has now become fashionable to deride the so-called "neocons" as Machiavellians ruthlessly plotting global American hegemony, but an objective reading of their writings reveals an idealism rooted in the belief that America should stand with the forces of democratic reform and liberalism in places like the Middle East. Given a choice between coddling dictators and championing rule of law, the equality of women, and a free press, we should be unapologetically in favor of the latter. That support would not necessarily have to be military in nature, but diplomacy must to be backed with a credible threat of force or else it is ineffectual, especially in dealing with despotic regimes.

Now, with the neocons discredited and the general consensus that post-Saddam Iraq is ungovernable, we are back to a weird nostalgia for the dictators. James Baker is suddenly considered the voice of reasonableness by his erstwhile Democratic critics, even as he urges cutting deals with the likes of Iran's Ahmadinejad and Syria's Assad, who he assures us with a straight face have a long-term interest in a stable Iraq. Meanwhile, Iraqi democrats who risked their lives to elect a representative (if flawed and ineffectual) government are to be ignored. And bizarrely, Israel, the only true democracy in the region, is treated as a bargaining chip as we pursue the delusion that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the magic key that will resolve Sunni-Shia bloodletting in Iraq and cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program and ambitions to dominate the region. And these are the "realists"!

I'm not sure I agree with all of this, but it is making me think again about what it is I do believe. I tried to puzzle my own thoughts out over on Centerfeud, and I thought I'd post them here as well:

This is a very good piece. So good in fact that I'm having difficulty ordering my thoughts...but that seems to be par for the course these days for most people when the topic at hand is Iraq. So i think I'll take my disparate comments, number them and hope they hang together as some sort of a whole.

1) I agee that what is passing today as "Realpolitick" is pure nonsense. But it is worse than that. It is truly reprehensible. It is one thing to say in 1956, "We sympathize with the Hugarians who are fighting and dying for their freedom, but there is little we can do. Soviet retaliation in Western Europe has the potential for killing millions, so we must reluctantly stand on the sidelines." It is quite another to say today to Middle Eastern democrats today, "Hey good luck. I hope you have a nice trip on your way to the jihadist killing fields. But it is your own fault you know....didn't you realize that you are nothing but a backward Arab?"

2) I have some sympathy with those who think the neo-cons, in their democratic zeal, have displayed jacobinite tendencies that have tended to undercut their own cause. However, this means that there are errors that could be doesn't mean that the idea of Middle Eastern democracy itself is doomed.

3) What we need, and what your piece represents I think, is some sort of "realistic idealism". We needn't repudiate the ideals we think societies ought to embrace. We needn't throw women back into the dark ages, or simply allow them to be kept there by ignoring their plight. But that also doesn't mean we have to impose things with "revolutinary purity." We simply need to back liberal forces where ever they arise...but that has to mean more than just allowing them to attend cocktail parties in DC while they while away lives of exile.

Make sure you go over and read the entire post on Centerfeud.

Friday, January 19, 2007

She Looks Harmless Enough

From the BBC: Honours police arrest Blair aide

Downing Street political adviser Ruth Turner has become the fourth person to be arrested by police investigating the cash-for-honours allegations.

Ms Turner, a senior aide to Tony Blair, was arrested at 0630 GMT at her home but was later released on police bail.

She was quizzed for several hours over alleged honours offences and suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

The police inquiry team has spoken to about 90 people so far including Mr Blair. All deny wrongdoing.

Ms Turner, the director of government relations was arrested in September and questioned about alleged honours before being released without charge.

A Downing Street source told the BBC officials had been "taken aback" by Miss Turner's latest arrest but Mr Blair was giving her his full support.

What do you suppose they meant by saying this was "Miss Tuner's latest arrest"? Is she also a part-time soccer hooligan or something?

More Silly Poll Questions

This time from Fox News:

21. Do you think most Democrats want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed and lead to a stable Iraq or do they want it to fail and for him to have to withdraw U.S. troops in defeat?

SCALE: 1. Most Democrats want Bush plan to succeed 2. Most Democrats want Bush plan to fail 3. (Some want one thing, some another) 4. (Don’t know)

Success, Failure, Some one-some another, (DK)
16-17 Jan 07 32% 48 8 11
Democrats 42% 38 7 12
Republicans 21% 67 7 5
Independents 30% 42 11 17

This is a nightmarishly bad question. But aside the question of the uselessness of the question (this would definitely fail the "who cares?" test), but even if you took the premise as a good one it is abysmally presented. If you are asking folks what they think "most" of another group think how could you possibly have a category called "Some want one thing, some another"? Even if you thought 98% of Democrats wanted the plan to fail, you could still logically answer "Some want one thing, some another."

Formal logic should really be a required course for everyone.

In addition, evidently no one at Fox has heard of a priming effect, because they give these questions in succession:

14. Do you support or oppose sending additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help stabilize the country?

15. Do you think sending about 22,000 additional U.S. troops increases or decreases the likelihood of stabilizing the situation in Iraq, or will it not make much difference?

16. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote specifically on increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq -- would you vote for or against funding the increase in troops?

17. Regardless of how you would vote on sending more troops to Iraq -- If you were a member of Congress, would you vote to continue funding the current level of U.S. troops in Iraq or would you vote against funding the war altogether to try to force a troop withdrawal?

18. Do you consider the plan announced by President Bush last week to be a real change in U.S. strategy in Iraq or not a change in strategy at all?

19. Do you personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed?

Only then do they ask:

20. How likely do you think it is that the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week will succeed?

I think the placing of the question helps explain why nearly 1/4 of the respondents (and 2/5 of Democrats) said they wanted the plan to fail. I think folks were hearing question 19 as if that was the one asking them if they thought the plan would succeed.

At least that is what I want to believe. If the numbers of Democrats who actively want the US to fail in Iraq are really within the margin of error of those who want us to succeed...

So Sad

From the USA Today: Long before it gets unbearably hot, mild temperature rise can endanger species

For many species, the threat of global warming is more than too much heat. You can get temperature-related effects that may not be what you expect. Subtle environmental change can interact with physiological needs to weaken the ability of a species to maintain a viable population even when the temperature rise is too mild to kill individual organisms.

Gee....I hate to say it but I think these species are SOL, as the climate has been getting "subtly" warmer for over 20,000 years.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How The World Works For Kos

I couldn't make this up if I tried: From the DK

Nussle shows gratitude

You are Rep. Jim Nussle. You decide to vacate your seat to run for Governor of Iowa.

The Republican Governor's Association, headed by Mitt Romney, chips in $1.2 million.

Romney himself throws in $100K -- the largest contribution Nussle received the entire campaign.

How do you reward such largess?

You join the Giuliani campaign.

How much did Giuliani give to Nussle's gubernatorial effort?


And this is supposed to show that Nussle is a bad guy? To me it looks like Nussle's endorsement isn't for sale to the highest bidder. I guess in Kos' mind if you are bought and paid for you STAY bought and paid for.

Reality Kicking Other Folks In The Butt

Two items of note here. The first from Stobborn Facts, The Truthiness of AP:

Two of my biggest gripes about AP have been their strident editorialism masking as "news," and their apparent disregard for facts when the facts go contrary to the reporter's agenda.
Today's example is

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - When it comes to squandering the earth's natural resources, residents of this desert land of chilled swimming pools, monster 4x4s and air-conditioned malls are on a par with even the ravenous consumption of Americans, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The average person in the Emirates puts more demand on the global ecosystem than any other, giving the country the world's largest per-capita "ecological footprint," WWF data shows. The United States runs second.

But the oil-rich Emirates is considered a developing country, and even as a signatory to the United Nations' Kyoto protocol on global warming, is not required to cut emissions. The United States is no longer bound by Kyoto, which the Bush administration rejected after taking office in 2001.

For the record, the United States has NEVER been "bound by Kyoto." The Bush administration no more "rejected" Kyoto than the previous administration did--it was the United States Senate, which holds the sole power of treaty ratification, that soundly and unanimously rejected the Kyoto protocol in 1997 even before Al Gore symbolically signed it a year later, a wee bit before the current administration took office. Neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration submitted the Protocol to the Senate in the face of the Senate's unanimous pre-emptive "rejection."

This is naked issue advocacy disguised as "news." It relies on a politically-interpreted non-peer-reviewed meta-report from a special interest group as the major "data" source. It contains some gross factual inaccuracies.

What happened to the AP's vaunted super-duper-fact-check-system? You know, the thing that makes them vastly superior to every blogger that ever crawled out of the primordial ooze to tap on a keyboard?? The truth is this went through how many levels of the editorial process and not one person saw anything wrong with it. One may be forgiven if things like this make one believe it was approved because editors agreed with its political sentiment.

The second story comes from Slate: The Unwilling Americans, More jobs the native-born won't do.

Last week, I wrote about the phenomenon of jobs Americans aren't willing to do. If companies can't hire the number of people they want to hire at the wages they want to pay, the reasoning goes, it must be because lazy, soft-handed Americans simply aren't willing to roll up their sleeves and do difficult jobs. Managing hedge funds and starring in reality TV shows? Absolutely. But, by this logic, not landscaping, picking fruits and vegetables, meat processing, manufacturing carpets, soldiering, or working in information technology.

In fact, the perceived shortages have less to do with a declining American work ethic and more to do with managerial stinginess. In many industries, employers—and, ultimately, their customers—simply aren't willing to pay the prices that legal American labor demands in exchange for performing the work—or for going through the expense and trouble of obtaining the skills and credentials necessary to ply certain trades. In today's Wall Street Journal, Evan Perez and Corey Dade offer support for this contention. Last September, a chicken-processing plant (one of those industries we're told Americans reject) in Stillmore, Ga., lost three-quarters of its work force after an immigration bust. In response, the company, Crider, "suddenly raised pay at the plant" by more than a dollar per hour and began offering better benefits: "free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory near to the plant." Miraculously, American workers materialized to accept the jobs.


Transportation is another area in which demographics, the desire to hold down costs, and rising demand are combining to create a "shortage." Two readers pointed me to a 2005 report released by the American Trucking Association and economic consulting firm Global Insight, which concludes that Americans' unwillingness to work as long-haul truckers could have dire consequences for the U.S. economy. As the press release notes, in 2005 the United States had a shortage of 20,000 truck drivers. Given economic growth and the graying of today's drivers, the industry will need 539,000 new drivers over the next decade. The study notes that if U.S. companies want to continue to enjoy cheap, reliable truck-based shipping, the industry will have to recruit more women and minorities, boost wages so that trucking pays more than construction, and address quality-of-life issues.

But that sort of thinking—raise wages to attract domestic workers into your field—is so last century. In today's flat world, employers can choose from a global labor pool, apparently even for driving big rigs down I-95.

It still surprises me that the rank and file of the unions are still letting "their leaders" champion illegal immigration. It their jobs that are next.

I've Seen This Somewhere Before

Reading the Daily Kos is a little like watching someone who has a serious mental illness but refuses to take their daily medication. The daily fits of hysteria, anger, seething hatred, interspersed with moments of lucidity, makes for a slightly surreal reading experience. (That is as long as you don't venture into the comment section, which blows so far past surreal that one could only conclude that we, as a civilization, must be doomed.)

I keep reading the thing in the (probably mistaken) belief that it is somehow good for me. It does give me plenty to blog about, although it certainly isn't challenging blogging...they would have to grow the ability to engage in real critical thought for that to be possible. All ideologues of all persuasions, left and right, are by definition idiots. It might be all coherent to themselves, just as the wildly gesticulating homeless person makes sense to himself, but to someone not privy to their private inner world they look and sound like lunatics. However, while I feel sympathy for the mentally ill who may not be able to help themselves, I have to assume that the DK crowd are that way because they want to be. (I could say the same about the Little Green Football crowd, but I don't read it anymore...I simply couldn't stomach it.)

So when I read today's manic drivel, let us just say, I remain unconvinced:

Specter: Now wait a minute, wait a minute. The Constitution says you can't take it away except in the case of invasion or rebellion. Doesn't that mean you have the right of habeas corpus?

Gonzales: I meant by that comment that the Constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen has or is assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says that the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.

Which lead Mcjoan (whose legal credentials are unknown, to me at least) to banshee wail:

Alberto Gonzales should not only be impeached for his willfully obtuse interpretations of the Constitution, he should be disbarred.

Of course a non-hysterical reading of this might wonder if the point is being made by Gonzales that the writ of habeas corpus is not a "right" that belongs to individuals as such.

The wikipedia entry reads:

The writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is a civil, not criminal, proceeding in which a court inquires as to the legitimacy of a prisoner's custody. Typically, habeas corpus proceedings are to determine whether the court which imposed sentence on the defendant had jurisdiction and authority to do so, or whether the defendant's sentence has expired.

This would seem to imply that the "right" is held not by the incarcerated individual, but by one court looking at the proceeding of another court. But of course this is by definition true. What is being talked about is the writ of habeas corpus. And what is a writ?

In law, a writ is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction.

Now, I know the folks at the DK would love to be a law unto themselves, but this is just stupid.

Reaching The Point Of Absurdity

I'll admit, I don't have much against Wal-Mart. Recently there was talk in the town where I live that the chain was looking to build here, and I was against it. That wasn't because I think they are evil, but I just would prefer a buffer between my little town and the suburban sprawl of the Twin Cities. (Plus, Wal-Mart wanted to put a stoplight on a 65mph highway. Sorry, but no way.) In fact, there already is a Wal-Mart about 7 minutes away, so I'm pretty sure nobody here is Wal-Mart deprived.

Then I read this from CNN: Wal-Mart accused of 'organic fraud'

A policy research group is accusing Wal-Mart of "organic fraud," the latest controversy to arise as the world's largest retailer pushes into the organic food industry.

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group which promotes sustainable farming, claims Wal-Mart (Charts) is defrauding its customers by mislabeling non-organic products as organic.

The policy group said it conducted checks of Wal-Mart stores in five states and discovered labeling violations in virtually all of the "dozens of stores" it visited.

Wal-Mart, which uses green signs to identify organic selections at its stores, said any shelf labeling mistakes are isolated events and that it often mixes organic and conventional products on its shelves to make it easer[sic] for customers to find organic options.

"Although Wal-Mart has more than 2,000 locations that may offer up to 200 organic selections in addition to thousands of non-organic offerings, we believe it to be an isolated incident should a green organic identifying tag be inadvertently placed by or accidentally shift in front of the wrong item," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

But Cornucopia claims the retail behemoth isn't doing enough to address the problem.

Oh please, for the love of God Almighty, give me a break. The protests of the "policy research group" cannot make sense to anyone who has EVER shopped in a supermarket. At any given store how many things are mislabeled? 10 to 15 percent maybe? These stores are restocked every day, sometimes several times a day. Errors are simply a part of life. Does that mean that the shopper will have to take care to get exactly the product they want? Absolutely. Welcome to the 20th century.

The word "fraud" demands they prove deliberate deception, not that Wal-Mart is generally sloppy, just like every other grocery store on Earth.

Wal-Mart said its stores are sent guidelines for placing identification tags and that it works with its stores to make sure the tags are accurate. The USDA certification label on the actual packaging of organic items also helps customers verify products as organic, the company said.
[emphasis added]

I'm not saying you have to love Wal-Mart, but it would help if your complaints made at least a little bit of sense.

What? (Grecian Style)

I can maybe understand rioting about serious injustice, I'm not saying I'd condone it, but I could understand how it happens.

But then you see things like this and you have to say WTF?

Greek riot police have clashed with angry students on the streets of the capital, Athens, during a protest over proposed education reforms.

Violence broke out during a march on parliament attended by some 3,000 people, mainly university students.

There were no reported injuries or arrests during the scuffles during which masked youths threw petrol bombs.

Students, backed by university and education unions, claim the reform would lower the quality of education.

Well, the proposed reform must have been something pretty heinous, right?

The demonstration is one of several taking place across Greece to protest against a proposed change to education policy, which would require a constitutional amendment.

The proposal would allow private universities to operate fully in Greece and for the degrees they award to be recognised by the state.

That's it?

So..... in Greece university profs are state bureaucrats, and they are worried that their cushy lifestyle might be impacted if private colleges prove they can deliver the same education without suckling at the teat of the state.

What shocks me is that they have convinced their students that this is a cause of injustice to them.

It does prove that the profs have done a good job reducing the critical thinking skills of Greek university students to that of a well trained attack dog. Maybe one day the students will wake up and realize they are little more than someone else's bitch.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Academia Needs to Grow Up

You know, when you get caught doing something totally moronic and indefensible, the ebst thing to do is shake you head, say "What WAS I thinking?" and get on with life. For some inexplicable reason Marquette University seem completely unable to do this:

Marquette University's censorship of a Dave Barry quote was one of the more confounding cases of 2006. Marquette's reaction to the quote-a benign criticism of the government-went from baffling to exasperating when administrators tried to justify the censorship, first by claiming that the quote was "patently offensive," then that office doors are not "free speech zones," then that it was only in "the context of a complaint" that Marquette is willing to forsake its community members' free speech rights.

In the hope that Marquette will push past these excuses to clarify whether students and faculty are allowed to express themselves in even the most traditional and banal manner, FIRE wrote to Marquette once again on Friday, January 12. This time, we attempted to elicit a direct statement about free speech at Marquette from President Robert Wild by writing:

Despite our numerous correspondences, three questions remain: First, was Stuart Ditsler within his rights to post the Barry quote? Second, are students and faculty free to post materials on their office doors, free from viewpoint discrimination? Third, do students and faculty at Marquette enjoy free speech rights comparable to those at any state college?

Until Marquette abandons its multifarious obfuscations and answers these questions directly, students and faculty remain unsure about the level of free expression that is permissible at Marquette.

I guess President Bush isn't the only one to have trouble admitting he screwed up.

I Thought I Knew Something About History...

..but,MAN, was I wrong: From the Times of London: S'il vous plaît . . . can we be British, too?

Instead of feuding over farm spending and Iraq, the French and British might now be celebrating four decades of union under Queen Elizabeth II if London had accepted a French plan drafted at the height of the Suez crisis in 1956.

Guy Mollet, then the French Prime Minister, proposed a merger as a way of sealing their alliance against threats in the Middle East.

Sir Anthony Eden, the British Prime Minister, rejected the first idea but was keen to bring France into the Commonwealth, according to National Archive documents cited by a BBC Radio 4 documentary.


According to the 1956 Cabinet memorandum: "M Mollet . . . raised with the Prime Minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France."

A Cabinet official recorded the enthusiastic way that Eden responded when he discussed it with Sir Norman Brook, the Cabinet Secretary: "Sir Norman Brook . . . informed me the PM told him he thought in the light of his talks with the French: that we should give consideration to France joining the Commonwealth; that M Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty; that the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis."

The idea was dropped quietly after opposition from Whitehall. James Ellison, a London University historian, said that France was not the only candidate. "Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway were also discussed. The Treasury advised that the instability of European economies would not do the Commonwealth a lot of good."

It is very hard to get my head around something like this. I am intrigued by "counterfactual" historical premises, but I don't have any idea how the world would look if this was attempted. The Times suggestions seem a little frivolous to me:

    • If only we'd got it together...

      Britain would still have a thriving car industry

      The trains might just run on time

      The Channel Tunnel, an idea first mooted in the 1750s and developed by the Victorians, would have been opened at least 20 years earlier

      The end of disputes about "champagne" made in Sussex and Somerset brie

      Arsenal would stop fielding a team full of "foreigners" and England would have won the World Cup more than once

      The empire would grow from a handful of small islands to a slightly larger handful of small islands

      Tales of SAS derring do would include attacks on Greenpeace ships

On second thought, maybe they are all frivolous except the bit about the World Cup.

Market Makers

An interesting post over at CQ on Saudi oil production:

Noticed a drop in prices at the gas pump of late? After approaching or even topping $3 a gallon for gasoline, the prices have steadily fallen in recent weeks; stations here in Minnesota had it at $1.89 per gallon over the weekend. The decline at the pump comes from an unexpected glut in the market, and some OPEC producers had hoped to force a round of production cuts to bolster crude prices. However, Saudi Arabia announced today that it had 3 million bbls/day of spare capacity, and it intends to start using it.


This will hurt those producers whose efficiency cannot match the Saudis, which primarily means Iran and Venezuela. It's doubtful that the Saudis care much about Hugo Chavez and his determination to nationalize the Venezuelan energy industry, but the Saudis care a great deal about Iran and its radical Shi'ite mullahcracy. The Iranians have a big economic problem at the moment, and their only hope is to keep oil prices high enough to cover their gaps. If oil prices continue to drop, it slices off most of the margin the Iranians can capture from oil sales, their only export of any significance.

It also frees the Western nations sanctioning Iran to conduct an agressive pressure campaign. The Iranians thought that they had more leverage than the West as a major oil producer, although Iranian exports only account for a small percentage of global commodity trading (around 5%) -- and that share gets smaller and smaller. The Iranians have had to use more of their shrinking production for domestic purposes, meaning that the lower prices have an exponentially crippling effect on their economy.

It would be nice to believe this was exactly what is happening. It seems too often the Saudi interests have been so narrowly focused that they ignore regional developments to their future dis-service.

Keeping a few petrol dollar from Chavez is just a bonus.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How I Spent My MLK Day

I used most of yesterday in an ill-begotten attempt to relearn some of the grad school statistics I had studied in a half-assed manner 16 years ago. Once again I was mucking about in the NOAA historical data on hurricanes, trying to figure out how valid or invalid the disaster models were that I wrote about before. I came up with some stuff, but I don't know enough about the stats to be all that confident about my results. In looking over stuff that might be similar I came upon this post at Climate Audit, that was also looking at the same data. I posted what I found over there hoping to get some response that might back me up or point out what basic tenet of statistical analysis I had screwed up. So far I've been ignored...which is fine...I'm used to THAT. In any event, this is what I posted:

I fret about commenting here (on the site) because I am NOT terribly conversant in a lot of the statistical methods (I went to grad school in political philosophy for crying out loud), but I have been looking at this same data for a while now. I’ve reached some conclusions, based upon my admittedly limited knowledge, but I’d like to know what folks think I’ve done right or wrong, and where the weaknesses of my understanding lie.

OK, so we are looking at tropical storm/hurricane formation in the Atlantic basin in an historical perspective. Based upon the caveats included in the NOAA historical data set, I decided to limit my investigation to the 1946-2005 time period. (It also makes for an even 60 year period.)

So I’ve loaded up my data onto a spreadsheet and found the following basic statistics:

# of Tropical Storms 634 (avg. 10.5667/year)
# of Hurricanes 369 (avg. 6.15/year)

Next, I get the standard deviation for the T. Storm number ang get back a value of 3.9504 (and for just hurricanes a values of 2.5765)

Even I know these are very large numbers, so I look around for reasons (thank you google) and I hit upon the possibility I could be looking at a lognormal distribution. Is this reasonable? I think it is, but I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

In any event I get log10 values for the data, and get
mean: 0.9971
standev: 0.1533

extrapolating the numbers back out (i.e. 10 ^ 1.1504) I get an upper value of 14.1372 storms, with a mean (i.e. 10^0.9971) of 9.9334 storms. This makes the lower boundary 5.7296. OK so I look at how much of the original data falls between 6 and 14 inclusive. I find 51 out of 60 (85%) observations fall in that range. So once again that looks pretty good, or I’m not seeing anything that argues agaisnt this being a lognormal distribution. I think.

Anyway, I was doing all of this because of the news story about RMS downplaying most of the historical data and stressing the last 12 years. The argument seems to be that the last 12 years were so unusual, in term of tropical storm activity, that it must be indicative of new rules to the game.

So I looked at the 12 years 1994-2005. Using the log10 numbers I get a mean of 1.1354, for that time period which seems to be within ONE standard deviation of the 1946-2006 values. (i.e.,0.9971+0.1533=1.1504)

That is about as far as my limited knowledge can take me. Where have i screwed up, what dont I know?

On the chance that someone with a statistical background reads this here, I pose the same questions. According to my work the claim that the last 12 years of hurriane activity is significantly different from what came before is false. In fact I found that the activity fell within a stardard deviation from the mean. I also ran the numbers using as a baseline the data from 1946-1993 and comparing the 1994-2005 years to that (i.e. a log10 mean of 0.9625, with a standard deviation of 0.1326 for the 1946-1993 data, vs. a log10 mean of 1.1354 for the 1994-2005 period.), and found the 12 year period was still only barely one standard deviation away from the older numbers.

It seems clear to me that the claims of the folks at RMS (" "Increases in hurricane frequency should be expected along the entire U.S. coast, but will be highest in the Gulf, Florida, and the Southeast, while lower in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.") is in no way borne out by the data.

But I'll admit it would seem even clearer if I could know that I haven't made some sort of basic blunder.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Things Not To Say In The Same Breath

I realize that military history has been largely excised from history curriculum at all levels of education in the United States. Tender hearted people wanted it gone for many reasons (mild to extreme pacifism, desire to teach social history, a desire to remove dates and other "rote" learning etc.), but I think, on the whole, the effect has been deleterious. The simple ignorance of most Americans about the military and military history staggers me.

This was brought to mind by a statement I read in an otherwise sane post over at Donklephant.

There have been some who say that we haven't lost as many soldiers in this war as say, World War II. It implies that the American public is somewhat squeamish about losing so many people.

Maybe he isn't reading the newspapers, or watching the news broadcasts on television, or reading post in the blogosphere, or listening to the radio....maybe he isn't...but if he is he has to be tone deaf not to hear the complaints about the casualties. It started BEFORE the war even began. (Read this article that speculates there could be 30% to 60% casualty rates if the US attempted to assault Baghdad. If you just counted combat troops that would have been 22,000 to 45,000. In case you don't remember, that didn't happen. Oh, and I love this quote from a military history prof., "any death is one too many." I guess he doesn't want to get left out of any academic reindeer games.)

If the word "squeamish" means anything there is no way it cannot be applied to Americans generally speaking (or folks like this specifically.)

And to imply that our attitude today is comparable to the WWII generation is nothing short of nuts. "Oh we are not squeamish, we just want to succeed." This is complete and utter BS. If someone could walk up to them and say "I can guarantee you victory, but it will cost 6,000 dead soldiers over 6 years" they would go ape shit.

I also have a problem with it because it minimizes the enormity of the WWII sacrifice. Even what were considered minor combat operations at the time produced what would be considered today massive casualties. For example, seven days worth of fighting in the Kasserine Pass produced over 6000 casualties. In Italy in 1945 (Jan 6th to May 2nd,) hardly a focal point of the war, the 10th Mountain Division alone had nearly 5000 casualties. Indeed most individual divisions to see combat in WWII suffered more than the entire US Army has in this war.

So don't claim we are the is very obvious we are not.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Confirming Sort Of Day

Well, I've been looking around the blogosphere all day and it has really reinforced my belief that the whole surge/escalation brouhaha was in reality a non-story. (You can read through TMV extensive catalog of weblog reaction here. You can come back and tell me if you learned much about Iraq you didn't know before. I'll guess the answer will be "not really.")

It reminds me of what an earth shattering event the release of the Iraq Study Group report was to be. Oh, the breathless anticipation we all felt last fall, until the fateful day it was released! Oh what joy!

Of course now, the ISG report holds all the currency of a JC Penny catalog from 1997. ("Turtleneck sweaters for 14 bucks!") Somehow we all moved on without our world being changed, even though the "climate of opinion" told us nothing would be the same.

I'll let you all in on a little secret I've picked up from a little guy named Socrates...the "climate of opinion" is almost invariably wrong.

The blogosphere today fairly reeks of the "climte of opinion."

Enough said.

You Ruthless Bastard

And really, I'm talking to you. (Point to yourself now.) YES! YOU! You murderous SOB! From Sp!ked:

Blair should be put on trial, not for his invasion of Iraq, but for defending long-haul holiday flights. Not for being 'Bliar', but even worse, for being 'Bl-air' - a man who shamelessly defends the mass-murdering aviation industry.


Flying has always made me sick. The last time I was on a plane – when I was eight and my parents took us to Spain – I vomited on my mother's hair. Back then they called it 'cabin sickness'; now I know it was an instinctive reaction by my moral system against the Great Injustice of Flight. I literally blew chunks of indignation. Even today, I'm one of few green activists who turn down invitations to debates overseas; I receive hardly any, of course, because they all know of my unshakeable principles.

George Monbiot – who would be my hero if I believed in such an elitist concept – says flying across the Atlantic is as unacceptable as child abuse. I'd go a step further and argue that flying anywhere is the equivalent of Satanic Ritual Abuse. If the impact of carbon emissions can be measured in the currency of kiddie-fiddling, then a Briton who takes a return flight to America (1.42 tonnes of CO2) is a predatory paedophile, and those who fly to destinations such as France (0.2 tonnes of CO2) are like those schoolteachers who have misguided flings with 14-year-olds.

Airline pilots and flight attendants are the Ian Bradies and Myra Hindleys of the aviation industry. Don't tell me 'They're just doing their jobs'! That is what some people said about the SS guards who pumped Jews with Zkylon B – an evil gas which, as we know, had a devastating impact on the beautiful countryside around Auschwitz. (Yet still we don't include the Nazis' Holocaust of Trees in the annual Holocaust Memorial Day, which shows yet again just how speciesist our society remains.)

It seems obvious to me, and this is my first step to stopping flying, that we need a Flight Offenders Register, where we record the details of every person who flies anywhere for any reason. I have already kickstarted such a campaign. Recently I've been organising protests outside the home of a local paediatrician who flies to his holiday home in Tuscany TWICE A YEAR! As my placard, designed by Sheba and the kids, says: 'Hey paediatrician! What is the point in saving children's lives for a living when you kill the equivalent of 7.2 children in the Third World during your hols?' (I'm pleased to say that these anti-flying protests have attracted the exuberant interest of people from nearby poor council estates, who shout colourful slogans such as 'We don't want evil paediatricians here!' and 'Burn him out, burn him out!' I understand their fury.)

Satire is sooooo worth it when it works.

Not The Way I Thought I'd Start My Blogging Day

I really thought my first post would be on the SLU/Rhode Island game, but Lo! (and Behold!) I'm gonna talk about the LA Galaxy and the coming of one Posh Sp...I mean David Beckham.

The (rumoured so long we never thought it was really gonna happen) move of Becks from Real Madrid to MLS will take lace after Real's season ends. Beckham should suit it up come August. The deal is a reported $250 million over five years, so Dave and Vicky will find something to do during all his down time. Well, when it comes to sheer money MLS is no longer a minor league, particularly when you compare this deal to A-Rod's ($225 million over 10 years). Mark Mulder may have gotten his $13 million over two years, but Beckham will make $100 million during the same period. Good Lord.

From ESPN:

Former England captain David Beckham will leave Real Madrid at the end of the season and sign a five-year deal for MLS team Los Angeles Galaxy, he told Reuters on Thursday.

"This week Real Madrid asked me to make a decision regarding my future and the offer to extend my contract for a further two seasons," Beckham said. "After discussing several options with my family and my advisers to either stay here in Madrid or join other major British and European teams, I have decided to join L.A. Galaxy and play in the MLS from August this year."

Beckham, 31, who joined Real Madrid from Manchester United in June 2003, is the most famous player to sign up for Major League Soccer since it began in 1996.

He is also the biggest name player to move to club soccer in the United States since the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff played in the now-defunct North American Soccer League in the 1970s and early '80s.

Beckham's deal is reported to be one of the biggest in global sport, worth more than $250 million over an undisclosed amount of time.

Beckham has soccer academies in London and Los Angeles. His wife Victoria, a former Spice Girl, was recently photographed househunting in Los Angeles.

"David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally," said Timothy Leiweke, president & CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Galaxy. "David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world."

Now, I'm sure you are going to hear all the negative folks come out of the woodwork on this one. It will certainly piss off the more xenophobic soccer haters out there who will hate white boy Becks because he is still a "fur-a-ner." In reality you will get complaints from soccer people as well. "It a publicity stunt...he's too slow....he only did it because Victoria wants a Hollywood lifestyle...etc etc"

All of that is pure bullshit. This is only good for MLS and soccer in general in these here United States of America. And it will be good for anyone who wanted the level of play to increase in the top American league. This raises the bar really high on all the other clubs. Clubs like my beloved DC United will suddenly have a spotlight put upon their personnel moves like never before. Can they bring in a difference maker? Can they bring in someone that could create a rivalry with the likes of Beckham? (BTW I doubt if DC will. They seem intent on bringing in South American players no one has ever heard of. Ah well...)

Cross posted at (Get) A Sporting Life.

Nights Like These

I will admit, while I didn't think the President's speech tonight was anything to get worked up over, nights like these are what blogs are made for. There is a certain sense of excitement one could experience going from favorite blog to favorite blog to off-beat voice to wack jobs of various credos...and back again!

Just makes me wish there was more substance for folks to chew over. Instead all we got was people rehashing their opinions which, let's face it folks, we know already. The President may have given a speech, but nobody (and I mean NOBODY) listened to it with an open mind. We are all set in concrete these days...we may pretend otherwise, but even our make-believe is half-hearted.

So...was it good for y'all?

No. I didn't think so.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What I Believe

Much of the blogosphere has a bad case of the vapors today, as they wait in breathless anticipation to hear the President confirm what everybody has already known for several weeks now. We are going to increase troop levels in Iraq by around 15%.

15%? That's it? Why all the hysterics (on both sides)?

The truth is none of the hand wringing is based upon whatever merits the troop increase might of might not have. It is all, 100%, based on symbolic politics.

And I want no part of it.

"Symbolic" politics is no politics at all. "Symbolic" politics allows people to be intellectually lazy, to hide behind their prejudices or their ideological fervor (which amount to the same thing in the end.) After all is said and done we find that exactly nothing has been accomplished.

Don't be fooled into thinking that "Symbolic" politics allows ideas to compete by proxy, because it simply isn't true. In fact "Symbolic" politics thwarts such progress by keeping all ideas unexamined.

Ask yourself this question: Does anyone truly believe the key to our success in Iraq is dependent upon wether we have 130,000 or 150,000 troops on the ground? No, of course not.

Then why the hell is that all people are talking about?

Why the hell are we wasting our time?

I Hope He Isn't Your Thesis Advisor

Usually grad students live with the fear that their dissertation advisor could possibly die before they can get through the process. They usually don't worry about their advisor going to the big house for murdering their wife.

Authorities arrested Penn Economics professor Rafael Robb yesterday afternoon in connection to the murder of his wife.

He has been arraigned and is currently being held in jail without bail.

Robb, 56, has been charged with the first- and third-degree murder of his wife, Ellen Robb, and with possessing instruments of crime, according to a press release from the office of Montgomery County district attorney Bruce Castor.

Robb - who has told authorities he was on Penn's campus when the murder took place - is also charged with giving false reports to law-enforcement officials, unsworn falsification to authorities and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

Frank Genovese, Robb's attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Ellen Robb, 49, was murdered in her home outside Philadelphia on Dec. 22. An autopsy revealed that her death was probably the result of being beaten severely with a long, cylindrical object.

As can be seen from Robb's syllabus Graduate Level Game Theory (Economics 682) Robb taught The Prisoner's Dilemma. (Any bets as to when the University of Pennsylvania removes this link?) Of course he would have had to have had an accomplice before he could use his expertise to help himself.

Oh, and I loved this quote from the newspaper article:

"I don't think they're going to fire him before there's a jury verdict," Robinson said, adding that, if Rafael Robb is convicted, not even tenure can save him from being fired.

"University professors have tenure, but it's not that solid," he said.
[emphasis added]

That anyone even felt he need to add that is hysterical. Only in academia...only in academia...

Avert Your Eyes!! Social Science Content!!

I sent my thoughts about the Gallup Poll question below to a couple of grad school buddies of mine who still do this sort of thing for a living, and I got the following response which I thought I should share:

1) #4 could overlap with #2 or #3, so it certainly creates error within
the poll. My guesstimate (heavy on the guess) is that less than five percent of those who answered number 4 would overlap with number 3, based on the idea that people answering the question would view the two as entirely different approaches. Your point correctly points out the nuance of an argument (you could want withdrawl in a certain amount of time but want troop buildup to achieve the goal) and most poll respondents probably don't think in such nuanced terms.

My thought: I'll admit that I have a tendency to "overthink" poll questions when I am taking them myself, so I might exaggerate the amount this goes on in the general public. But it is possible to construct a poll without such conflicts.

My friend continues:

2) This is not just a strangely conducted poll, it really is a terrible poll. I hadn't noticed how bad Gallup questions on the war until you pointed it out. #3 is essentially a meaningless question because it allows for people with completely divergent viewpoints to select the response. One person could answer in the positive for #3 because they don't want the US in forever but is uncomfortable with setting a timetable of 12 months or less, even though they really want to withdraw sooner rather than later, while another could answer in the positive because they want the job done right no matter how long it takes. Because it is so ambiguous, or rather that it allows for multiple interpretations of a yes response, it makes an analysis of the grouping of the responses impossible. (The other huge flaw with the question is that what does it mean when they say "take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis"? What's control- a weak gov't barely holding off a smaller insurgency? A full-fledged democracy? Something in between?)(And another huge flaw is that the question itself is sort of contradictory- withdraw but take as long as is needed. Well, no shit, people expect us to withdraw eventually- how long is the key question. By placing withdraw in the question, as opposed to asking "Stay until the Iraqis take control" you include respondents similar the first person I describe above.)

I think all of this is correct. In light of that, the most sensible approach to take to such a poll is to ignore it because its results are, from a social science point of view, meaningless. However, they do represent the character of the popular discourse (for what THAT is worth), so I judged it was ok to use the numbers with caveats.

Just so everyone understands, what is being discussed here is not bias. I'm not claiming or implying that in any way, shape or form. We are talking about lousy social science methodology. Someone over at Gallup needs a refresher course. (It is scary to note that the same question has been asked since at least 2005. One wonders what the internal review procedures are over at Gallup. Do they have the equivalent of peer review there?)

A Silly Editorial

I saw this from US News & World Report, Who Says the French Don't Work Hard?, and it is a real head scratcher.

Americans may have the reputation of working through lunch and being chained to their BlackBerrys. But it turns out that small-business owners in the United States actually work fewer hours than their global counterparts. U.S. owners of companies with under 100 employees worked 52 hours a week on average. Business owners in the United Kingdom, Mexico, France, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, and Australia averaged 54 hours a week, according to a MasterCard survey of 4,000 small businesses around the world.

And get this: The French actually led the pack, working an average of 59 hours a week, with 6 percent of those surveyed working more than 100 hours. What happened to those 35-hour workweeks and languid lunches in cafes?

I'm not sure what the point is here. It has been noted that productivity rates are lower in France than in the US. But the information about small business owners in France doesn't contradict that, in fact it may even lend support for the idea. My question would be, what are the work hours for the employees of small businesses? If employees work less in France someone will have to take up the slack and that someone will probably be the business owner. (Not to mention the greater regulatory and bureaucratic oversight of the French economy that will demand more time to deal with when compared to the US.)

The editorial notes:

Turns out that in France more than half of small-business owners have no employees, and many are involved in businesses like farming or tourism where long hours are standard.

This brings two thoughts to mind: 1) If you compared employee-less enterprises in the USA and France, wouldn't they have the same long hours because those are "standard"? And 2) are there more employee-less small businesses in France because it is harder to make a success of it there?

Once A Sidekick, Always A Sidekick

Yesterday concerning the Russia/Belarus flap I said:

"That being said I would be surprised if Lukashenko's defiance to Moscow will amount to too much."

Today we learn:

Belarus has cancelled a transit tax on oil shipments from Russia, according to the country's prime minister.
The move, following meetings between government ministers, marks progress in resolving an argument with Moscow over oil which began earlier this week.

Russia closed the pipeline on Monday after it accused Belarus of stealing oil supplies.

Oil through the Druzhba pipeline - across Belarus - could flow again soon, European customers say.

"The government, taking into consideration bilateral agreements with the Russian government, has taken the decision to cancel the state duty for the transit of oil along the state pipeline network," said Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky.

Why do I get the feeling that Lukashenko just got beat down good?

Daily Kos: "We Will Accept Nothing Less Than Total Defeat"

As is often the case over at the DK, they have got themselves into such a tizzy that their reading comprehension skills are slipping. In a missive entitled Angry, Impassioned Activists Take Over the World! (I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.)

A Los Angeles Times piece this morning, titled "Democrats feel liberals’ anti-war heat," with the subheading, "Freshman and veteran lawmakers alike risk the ire of bloggers and other activists if they waver on an Iraq exit," contains this interesting piece of goofy analysis:

"Some moderate Democrats worry that the pressure being applied by the antiwar left is misguided, arguing that voters want a change of course in Iraq but not a rapid withdrawal.

Conventional wisdom says that presidential candidates who want to be responsible on this are going to hurt themselves with the angry, impassioned activist left," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank. "But the activist left is out of sync with the American public. Americans don't want to concede this is a total debacle."
How out of touch are we, the "angry, impassioned activist left?" Well, about this much, according to the most recent Gallup poll:

Bush's expected announcement of increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq runs counter to the public's expressed desire. Just 12% of Americans choose an increase in troop levels when presented with four U.S. options for dealing with Iraq, and only 36% say they would favor a Bush proposal that would temporarily increase the number of U.S. troops to stabilize the situation in Iraq.
Apparently, the country is seething with members of the "angry, impassioned activist left." No longer relegated to the fringe, Gallup’s numbers indicate they are everywhere -- everywhere!

This all seems to be of a piece with the DK general tone. They are pissed off because Bush is still trying to win the war. That is Bush's real sin. He wants to win the war. For the DK and its ilk we only learn our moral lesson if the US loses the war. And when a newspaper article has the temerity to suggest that the American people in general do not wish to lose the war, the DK is shocked!

The DK ramble continues:

When you stand in a line of three at the grocery store, only one of you wants even a temporary increase in troops to "stabilize the situation in Iraq." Odds are, none of you wants a non-temporary, open-ended troop increase such as the president, by all reports, is going to announce tonight.

Well lets see what the Gallup Poll refered to by the DK says on the matter.

Gallup asked the following question:

Here are four different plans the U.S. could follow in dealing with the war in Iraq. Which ONE do you prefer -- [ROTATED: withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately, withdraw all troops by January 2008 -- that is, in 12 months' time, withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis,(or) send more troops to Iraq]?

Response #1=Withdraw Now
Response #2=Withdraw within 12 months
Response #3=Withdraw, take as many years as needed
Response #4=Add troops

Jan/07 15%, 39%, 31%, 12%

I'll admit this is a strangely constructed poll. Think of it in terms of set theory. The first three responses represent separate sets; that is, respondents could logically only belong to one set. However, the fourth option "Send More Troops" could overlap, especially with the 3rd option, but even potentially with the 2nd. But let's take it at face value for the moment.

The first response is clearly the DK defeatist battle cry. The second is the cry of many Democrats in Congress who do not want an "open ended" commitment. The third response can only be categorized as "stay the course." The fourth is a little more nebulous, but it obviously is a "Lets try and make something positive happen." So it looks like the polls say 54% want to get out sometime within a year, and 43% want to still try and win the war.

Lets look at these polls as a series:
Response #1=Withdraw Now
Response #2=Withdraw within 12 months
Response #3=Withdraw, take as many years as needed
Response #4=Add troops

Jan/07 15%, 39%, 31%, 12%
Oct/06 20%, 34%, 35%, 9%
Sep/06 17%, 31%, 42%, 9%
Jul/06 19%, 36%, 35%, 6%
Jul/06 19%, 33%, 38%, 7%
Jun/06 17%, 33%, 41%, 8%
Jun/06 17%, 32%, 42%, 6%
Mar/06 19%, 35%, 39%, 4%
Nov/05 19%, 33%, 38%, 7%

Now, if someone wanted to be disingenuous, one could correctly claim that the call to Withdraw Now! has never been more unpopular, and the call for more troops never more popular.

It probably makes most sense to look at the first two responses as forming a "block" and the last two as forming another. That would make the polls look like:

Jan/07 54%, 43%
Oct/06 54%, 44%
Sep/06 48%, 51%
Jul/06 55%, 41%
Jul/06 52%, 45%
Jun/06 50%, 49%
Jun/06 49%, 48%
Mar/06 54%, 43%
Nov/05 52%, 45%

Looks pretty steady over time to me.

So when the DK exclaims that "no one wants an open ended commitment" you have to remember that, to them, 43% of Americans are, well, nobody.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back

Over at Prometheus there has been a response from Robert Muir-Wood of RMS. He states:

The political response to the 'insurance crisis' currently underway in Florida is looking for someone to blame. Cat modelers are simply the messengers relaying news concerning the significance of a period of significantly higher hurricane activity that has persisted in 9 out of the last 12 years and that climatologists, as polled at the most recent expert elicitation, expect to continue for a decade or more longer. There is a need to get journalists and politicians in Florida to focus more attention on the reasons for the increase in hurricane activity and, in particular, the role of climate change.

Its enough to make me a little misty.

Anyway...I responded over there:

Robert Muir-Woods states: "Cat modelers are simply the messengers relaying news concerning the significance of a period of significantly higher hurricane activity that has persisted in 9 out of the last 12 years and that climatologists, as polled at the most recent expert elicitation, expect to continue for a decade or more longer."

LEt's look on the NOAA data on the storms hitting the US since 1994.

2005: 6 (4 Cat3, 2 Cat1)
2004: 6 (1 Cat4, 2 Cat3, 1 Cat2, 1 Cat1)
2003: 2 (1 Cat2, 1 Cat1)
2002: 1 (1 Cat1)
2001: 0
2000: 0
1999: 3 (1 Cat3, 1 Cat2, 1Cat1)
1998: 3 (2 Cat2, 1 Cat1)
1997: 1 (1 Cat1)
1996: 2 (1 Cat3, 1 Cat2)
1995: 2 (1 Cat3, 1 Cat2)
1994: 0

26 storms in a 12 year period (2.1667 per year). 8 of those 12 years had 2 or fewer storms hit. Since historically we have averaged around 1.75 storms a year, I hardly think 2 storms a year is "significantly higher."

Other 12 year periods that had above average numbers of storms includes:

1932-1944, 24 storms
1942-1953, 26 storms
1944-1955, 29 storms

It is interesting to note that in the five years following the 1944-1955 12 year period (29 storms, 2.41/year), only 7 storms hit (1.4/year).

The claim that "significantly higher hurricane activity that has persisted in 9 out of the last 12 years" is simply false. Since hurricanes can only hit in full integers (i.e. one at a time), it is dishonest to claim a year that has 2 hurricanes is an example of "higher activity" when the average is around 1.75. It would be much more honest to claim it is an example of bouncing around the mean.

Another Global Warming Danger

Insurance companies are now using the threat of global warming to rip its customers off. Evidently a group called Risk Management Solutions (RMS) supplies the models insurance companies use to get an idea of what their risks and liabilities are in hurricane prone areas. Well, last spring threw out its old models based upon 100 years worth of empirical evidence in favor of a guess; a guess real life hurricane experts call "actually unscientific." From the Tampa Tribune:

The leading computer model used by the insurance industry to justify huge rate increases in coastal areas nationwide relies on faulty science, says an expert credited with helping develop it.

"I think it points to a problem with the way these modeling groups are operating," said Jim Elsner, a professor of geography at Florida State University.

Elsner was one of four experts on a panel assembled in late 2005 to provide input for the computer model by Risk Management Solutions of Newark, Calif.

He said the results, details of which were brought to his attention by the Tribune, contain assumptions that are "actually unscientific."

The flaws identified by Elsner and another panelist have nationwide implications. The expert input was used to justify loss estimates that have prompted major insurance companies to request homeowners rate increases of up to 40 percent.

The problem: RMS took a consensus of experts that there will be more storms across the Atlantic, then added its own projections about which U.S. regions would be most affected.

In an interview Saturday, Gov. Charlie Crist called RMS's actions "apparent misrepresentations" that are stunning and appalling, but in a way, part of a pattern.

"It almost doesn't shock me because this industry has been taking remarkable advantage of our people," Crist said. "Big insurance is about to face a new day in Florida."

In March, RMS surprised the insurance industry with a dramatic change in the benchmark catastrophe software model it sells access to. Instead of using historical models based on more than 100 years of storm data, RMS announced a "medium-term" five-year model for 2006 through 2010.

The models contain specific data on tens of millions of homes, allowing insurers to estimate risk based on computer simulations of possible storms.

Based on the new model, RMS said hurricane losses would increase by 40 percent over the Gulf Coast and 25 percent to 30 percent in the other regions.

Consumer advocates tried to raise alarms at the time, with little success.

Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner now with the Consumer Federation of America, said the primary reason for the change to the five-year model appeared to be pressure from the insurance industry.

Thomas R. Knutson, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Princeton, N.J., and another RMS expert panelist, said the five-year timeline didn't come from the experts.

"I think that question was driven more by the needs of the insurance industry as opposed to the science," he said.

In March, RMS said the five-year model was developed in cooperation with the expert panel that included Elsner and Knutson, and that based on their perspective: "Increases in hurricane frequency should be expected along the entire U.S. coast, but will be highest in the Gulf, Florida, and the Southeast, while lower in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast."

"I didn't make any such statement of that type," Knutson said Friday.

Ah, put publications like Time magazine have, which is part of the "climate change" (sorry about the pun) that allowed this fraud (what else could you call it?) to occur.

Actually, in this day and age of governmental oversight into many areas of the insurance industry there is a certain amount of undeserved trust being given to them.

Long-term historical data are still the most credible, given the sparse data available for projecting the next five years, Karen Clark, chief executive officer of AIR Worldwide, said in a speech in the summer. Her company is an RMS competitor. Clark encouraged insurance companies not to replace the long-term model with the short-term one. Still, AIR has launched its own version of a five-year program for customers.

The details of how RMS arrives at its projections are considered a trade secret.

"We have never been able to get what they call the information out of the black box to review their models," said Bob Lotane, a spokesman for Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation. He said a public modeling system the state is working on should provide a way to verify the RMS projections.

I think it is absolutely outrageous that the amount people are expected to pay for insurance is based upon a secret formula. "Trade Secret" my ass. There is no indication that the possibility that insurance companies might "tweak" the numbers in such a way as to boost their bottom lines has been addressed.


(Gleaned from Prometheus)