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August 31, 2005

Opportunities for everyone to get it wrong.

The hurricane story has driven politics out of the news and out of my attention, so I have little to blog about over at this blog, but you cannot keep politics out of our lives for long, it seems. While the water is still draining from Mississippi and filling New Orleans, the single-minded political junkies are trying to spin this weather event for political gain. The wonderful thing about being a centrist is that I'm not compelled to defend or endorse either of the completely flawed arguments being tossed about.

It started with a predictable claim from the "left", that the unusually strong storm was a symptom of Global Warming. I've been very concerned about global climate change since I studied climate as a student in the '70's (it was not a political issue then, but was recognised and discussed in scientific circles.) As frustrated as I am with this administration's ideological blindness to this critical issue, this is a bum rap, and not helpful to the cause.

A single hurricane, no matter how large and powerful, is an aspect of "weather", not "climate". They are related but not the same thing, much the way that stock prices and national economic health are related but not the same. Just as a large daily spike or dip in stock prices is not "caused by" the state of the national economy, a hurricane is not caused by a climate trend.

The people making this claim don't know what they are talking about. They are going to bring discredit to an issue that can be defended based on the facts without resorting to bad science and easily deflected claims. They are also confusing the public, who don't really understand the climate issue well and are not going to understand it better after this flurry of nonsense.

A special award to Robert Kennedy Jr. for publishing a spectacularly asinine variation on this "meme" at the Huffington Post (a site I prefer not to link to.) He blames the destruction in Mississippi on Haley Barber, now the Governor of the state, because as a powerful Republican in the years before he ran for Governor, he campaigned against the Kyoto accord. This is breathtakingly bad logic, bad science, and bad taste. I've mentioned it because I was so stunned to read it, but don't want to add traffic or readership if I can help it. If by some accident you come across this column, as I did, take my advice and leave it quickly. Otherwise, forget it ever happened, you have better things to do with your mind.

There is some thought that as the energy in the atmosphere increases, the number of hurricanes or the percentage of storms that become powerful might increase, but this is nowhere near being certain. (The detailed effects of a global warming are much less certain among climate scientists than the fact that the warming is occurring.) Climate trends effect weather in very complex and poorly understood ways, which brings me to the other side of the political sparring this week. I heard Brit Hume put the question of a link between warming and Katrina to his regular panel, and Fred Barnes took the bait and chuckled a response that the warming "advocates" tend to see the impact of warming in every weather story (arguably true) claiming that warming is behind every heat wave and even every blizzard! They all had a good laugh over that.

These are smart fellows and I suspect that they are feigning a simple-minded thinking for the benefit of effect. They have no trouble appreciating complex interactions in the economy, or in global politics, so this "If the earth is warming then why is my weather not hot today" posturing is probably a bit of political theater. Its a bit like asking how the "Big Bang" at the birth of the universe could have made the sound of a "bang" in the vacuums of space. I don't believe that they are really that dense.

They are playing, of course, on the more genuinely dense skulls of some in the audience, or, to be fair to the viewers, reinforcing public misconceptions because they happen to be politically useful. The Left plays a similar game in talking about Iraq. They like to reduce things to mindless simplifications that feed their public's bad thinking. This is a cowardly tactic, but sadly it seems to work.

This tactic is only effective for so long, however, because the atmosphere is not influenced by political spin; Nature does not respect poll results (or even election results.) You can laugh away the issue and heap scorn on the scientists doing the modeling and forecasting. Do it enough and you can stop the issue in the political world, but you cannot stop the change in the climate with punditry. The climate will go on doing its thing regardless, and sooner or later not even the most skilled political posturer and wit will be able to hide it; or hide from it. Sometime down the road people will realize how thoroughly they have been mislead and I don't expect them to be pleased.


Posted by Jay on August 31, 2005 at 12:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Opportunities for everyone to get it wrong.

The hurricane story has driven politics out of the news and out of my attention, so I have little to blog about over at this blog, but you cannot keep politics out of our lives for long, it seems. While the water is still draining from Mississippi and filling New Orleans, the single-minded political junkies are trying to spin this weather event for political gain. The wonderful thing about being a centrist is that I'm not compelled to defend or endorse either of the completely flawed arguments being tossed about.

It started with a predictable claim from the "left", that the unusually strong storm was a symptom of Global Warming. I've been very concerned about global climate change since I studied climate as a student in the '70's (it was not a political issue then, but was recognised and discussed in scientific circles.) As frustrated as I am with this administration's ideological blindness to this critical issue, this is a bum rap, and not helpful to the cause.

A single hurricane, no matter how large and powerful, is an aspect of "weather", not "climate". They are related but not the same thing, much the way that stock prices and national economic health are related but not the same. Just as a large daily spike or dip in stock prices is not "caused by" the state of the national economy, a hurricane is not caused by a climate trend.

The people making this claim don't know what they are talking about. They are going to bring discredit to an issue that can be defended based on the facts without resorting to bad science and easily deflected claims. They are also confusing the public, who don't really understand the climate issue well and are not going to understand it better after this flurry of nonsense.

A special award to Robert Kennedy Jr. for publishing a spectacularly asinine variation on this "meme" at the Huffington Post (a site I prefer not to link to.) He blames the destruction in Mississippi on Haley Barber, now the Governor of the state, because as a powerful Republican in the years before he ran for Governor, he campaigned against the Kyoto accord. This is breathtakingly bad logic, bad science, and bad taste. I've mentioned it because I was so stunned to read it, but don't want to add traffic or readership if I can help it. If by some accident you come across this column, as I did, take my advice and leave it quickly. Otherwise, forget it ever happened, you have better things to do with your mind.

There is some thought that as the energy in the atmosphere increases, the number of hurricanes or the percentage of storms that become powerful might increase, but this is nowhere near being certain. (The detailed effects of a global warming are much less certain among climate scientists than the fact that the warming is occurring.) Climate trends effect weather in very complex and poorly understood ways, which brings me to the other side of the political sparring this week. I heard Brit Hume put the question of a link between warming and Katrina to his regular panel, and Fred Barnes took the bait and chuckled a response that the warming "advocates" tend to see the impact of warming in every weather story (arguably true) claiming that warming is behind every heat wave and even every blizzard! They all had a good laugh over that.

These are smart fellows and I suspect that they are feigning a simple-minded thinking for the benefit of effect. They have no trouble appreciating complex interactions in the economy, or in global politics, so this "If the earth is warming then why is my weather not hot today" posturing is probably a bit of political theater. Its a bit like asking how the "Big Bang" at the birth of the universe could have made the sound of a "bang" in the vacuums of space. I don't believe that they are really that dense.

They are playing, of course, on the more genuinely dense skulls of some in the audience, or, to be fair to the viewers, reinforcing public misconceptions because they happen to be politically useful. The Left plays a similar game in talking about Iraq. They like to reduce things to mindless simplifications that feed their public's bad thinking. This is a cowardly tactic, but sadly it seems to work.

This tactic is only effective for so long, however, because the atmosphere is not influenced by political spin; Nature does not respect poll results (or even election results.) You can laugh away the issue and heap scorn on the scientists doing the modeling and forecasting. Do it enough and you can stop the issue in the political world, but you cannot stop the change in the climate with punditry. The climate will go on doing its thing regardless, and sooner or later not even the most skilled political posturer and wit will be able to hide it; or hide from it. Sometime down the road people will realize how thoroughly they have been mislead and I don't expect them to be pleased.


Posted by Jay on August 31, 2005 at 12:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

Moving left, Moving right, Moving on

Micheal Totten raises again a question that has been getting tossed around for some time, especially around centrist circles, is the country "moving to the right?" He quotes Donklephant, who quotes the Village Voice quoting Fareed Zakaria saying, "in America the entire spectrum has shifted to the right. I still like the same kinds of people I always did-conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans, call them what you will. But we’re an increasingly embattled phenomenon in a country with a president talking about intelligent design."

At first I felt like agreeing with Zakaria, I was once considered very much a conservative. As a high school student I went door-to-door for Richard Nixon's re-election (we won big, too.) I don't feel as if I've changed much politically (well, except I don't like Nixon all that much anymore) but the seats out to the right of me have filled up. In the 70's, people more conservative than me and my mates were old farts, "the squares" in the parlance of our older siblings. Now, I find myself challenged as a Republican by folks who were not born when I first registered in the "R" column. I expect that their parents were among the lefties tossing eggs at us as we rallied for Nixon and later Ford. Smug, a**hole liberals of the '70's raised a generation of smug, a**hole neo-cons in the "00's". (We quieted them nicely in 1980 too. Lovely election...)

(At a political discussion not long ago, the discussion turned (for some reason) to the boomer generation. A very young and very conservative fellow jumped up to express his complete disdain for the boomers who had "disgraced the country with their protest of the Vietnam war", or words to that effect. I felt obliged to remind him that baby boomers had also fought that war.)

Ah well, I'm happier in the center, it makes more sense to me, and I like the company better.

Totten has a different view of this "shift" hypothesis. He suggests that the country has moved on more than moved right. He means, I think, that the issues are changing and the mix of people shifts around to reflect the new political landscape.


I don’t think the country has moved to the right so much as the country has moved on. The world has changed since 1968. People who haven’t changed in the meantime aren’t stranded on the left so much as they are stranded in time.

I was going to disagree but in preparing my comments I find that I sort of agree with him. The handy left-right ruler we apply to all issues is fickle and almost arbitrary. New issues get sorted out in new ways and the parties shift around with them. I do think that the Dem-Rep and Lib-Con spectrums have aligned themselves much more in the last decade than in earlier times. Decades ago there were genuinely conservative Democrats about, quite a few, in fact. It wasn't just liberalism that made one a Democrat in those days. Class and ethnicity were very important, as well as regional factors. Today those folks have become Republicans adding a new cadre of voters who are working-class, ethnic, southern and patriotic to the party (it used to be just the "Wall Street Republicans" and "Main Street Republicans", with a few "Country Club Republicans" and was a more strongly libertarian party)

I certainly do agree with Totten's point about those "stranded in time." A good chuck of the Left, and a bit of the Right, are stuck in the old model, fighting the old foe, over the old issues. When I, and other Centrists, say that the Right vs. Left model is obsolete, we mean that the old rules no longer relate well to the new political conversation. Attempts to maintain the old outmoded divisions while adapting to the newer issues, mangles the sense of these terms. Liberals are rooting for religious fundamentalist forces that oppress women as brutally as any regime in history. Conservatives are calling for increased government intervention in the home and in schools. Not surprisingly, many of us are confused and disoriented. We've come to the center where we can get our bearings better and see things more clearly.

Posted by Jay on August 24, 2005 at 11:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

I have been asleep at the wheel

Raging RINO LogoThe lack of political news, or at least news I can stomach to write about, I don't care to comment on the exploitation of a mother deranged by the loss of her son, has lulled me to sleep. I somehow missed the formation of a blogging community that seems custom-made for my blog. The Raging RINO's are a project of the Commissar at the Politburo Diktat, who also gave us the Coalition of the Chillin'

The Raging RINO's even have a Carnival organized!

Posted by Jay on August 22, 2005 at 04:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Less afraid, more in danger?

I wrote a bit ago about the new centrist blog, "Donklephant" (still can't quite get over either the name or the mascot). Marcus Cicero has contributed another well thought out essay, this time on the question of whether we are safer now that we are post-Cold-War but mid-GWOT, or were we really safer back when the Soviets were the perceived threat. (tip to Michael Totten again, subbing at Instapundit)

I'm traveling and do not have the occasion to comment as I would like to. I'll just suggest you read the essay and add that I strongly suspect that we are less likely to see global Armageddon, but much more likely to see a regional sort of annihilation. Sobering....

Posted by Jay on August 11, 2005 at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dobson stays in the news.

I've not made a secret of my concerns about what James Dobson has been saying in public recently. i find that he presents a poor image for conservatives, which is not a real big concern for me as I identify myself as a centrist. More worrying for me personally is the poor (and misleading) impression he gives of Christians. In the largely secular community I live in, Dobson is taken to be a representative of Christianity, when in fact he is nothing of the kind.

He is the leader of a political organization, and has lately been aiming to become a recognized political speaker (is "gadfly" the more apt term?) He and his organization have deftly implied that they speak for the Christian church. They don't. Please take a look at this op ed from today's Opinion Journal. David Gelernter responds to Dobson's recent comments on stem cell research. Irrespective of one's position on the use of stem-cells, we should be able to agree that rhetoric like Dobson's is not a positive influence on the debate.

Gelernter is a scholar of "Jewish Thought", which, I fear, will unfortunately reduce his credibility with some Dobson supporters. I would like to see more prominent Christian leaders (genuine Christian leaders, not politicians who happen to be affiliated with a Christian church) addressing the political speech masquerading as "Christian Thought."

Posted by Jay on August 11, 2005 at 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 06, 2005

Here's one for the Libertarians

Normally I would never see an article in "Nashville Scene", I live in California, but Glenn Reynolds saw it and provided the link on Instapundit. Another wonder of the blogosphere. It's a long but very worthwhile article about enforcement of "vice crimes" called Vice Follies, by Roger Abramson. This is not a quick little blog post; it's a major article. You should still read every word.

I would not describe myself as a libertarian, and nor would my friends who do. I'm too happy to bow to the properly expressed will of the people, even for a foolish self-infringement of personal freedoms. The people deserve the government they want, even an intrusive one. Of course, that means you cannot let the people off the hook for flaws in the "system", and Abramson hits that point right away.

The phrase "use the government" is key. I do not put the onus of McWilliams' death on the shoulders of the government, as many do. It's certainly true to say that the government denied McWilliams the very thing that may have saved his life. But it misses the point. We don't live under a monarchy or a dictatorship. We live in a representative democracy: when the government does something, it does so with the endorsement of a significant portion of the public. The federal government may have pulled the trigger on Peter McWilliams, but we-me, you, everyone-gave it the gun, the bullets and the ultimate order to shoot. All because we get our knickers in a wad over marijuana.

He recognizes that government officials, police departments (and I'll add federal enforcement agencies like the FBI and ATF) are not going to tell the voting public that their laws are foolish. Those folks like to keep their budgets growing, and if the public wants to regulate and enforce more laws, they are only too happy to oblige.

So if the cops and courts are wasting time on so called "victimless crimes" (I personally reject the phrase, but let's leave that for later), it's our fault, all of us. Now while I respect the rights of the people to pass the laws they want, I certainly don't agree with the result and would like to see the voters come to a different conclusion. This is where my "libertarian leanings" come out. Abrahamson goes on to describe why the government enforcement of morality is wasteful, counterproductive, arbitrary and infective, and a half a dozen other things as well. I can't locate a summary quote that captures the best of his argument, you'll need to read it for yourself. I will provide a few choice insights from the article as a "teaser."

The time has long passed for us to get our policy priorities straight by getting our government officials out of the business of policing victimless crimes. This is certainly not an original idea, I realize, but whenever I hear it espoused, the argument is usually of the "no one should be able to tell me what to do" variety, said in much the same tone a teenager might use in reaction to a parent enforcing a curfew. Frankly, this argument doesn't really do much for me. The truth is that-within constitutional parameters-the government can in fact tell you what to do and what not to do. That's its job.

The real argument to make has not to do with what the government can or cannot do, but rather, with what the government should do even if it could.

As I was saying, this isn't a matter of rights (with a few exceptions, of course), it is a matter of choosing how we will make use of our government enforcement power. We can regulate ourselves a lot more than we do (as the Europeans have demonstrated) but ought not to because its bad policy. Vice laws are not illegitimate, they're just foolish and wasteful.

I recognize, as do most people, that vice is called vice for a reason-it usually has little to no redeeming value, it can be addictive and people can screw up their lives if they can't handle it. But our laws haven't resolved any of these issues. In fact, they've made them worse, because their ultimate effect has been to completely remove the element of personal responsibility that in the past kept abuse largely in check.

This is a difficult idea that he explains in much greater depth. There is a very important distinction between believing that an activity is amoral, or dangerous, or undesirable in some way, and in criminalizing it. Passing laws against an activity has failed repeatedly to eliminate it, or even reduce it, whenever large elements of the public are interested in doing it. Morality laws are notoriously flaunted, sometime by the very police expected to enforce them. The people, through their wise elected leaders (a big hypothetical, I know), can express the public's disdain for an activity, and consider ways to discourage it (taxation is an old favorite), but criminalizing it is perhaps the least effective response. I have much the same feeling about the abortion issue, which disguises itself as a morals question, when it's really a discussion about criminalizing an accepted practice. I don't expect that criminalizing abortion will do much at all to stop it, or even reduce it much. (Sorry for the aside, this has nothing to do with Abrahamson's article)

Getting back to Abrahamson, his position has a nice "Centrist" tone to it.

If you are of a more liberal persuasion, the chances are that you think I'm only talking to social conservatives and their fellow travelers. Well, you're on the hook too. Because if we're going to truly start leaving people alone, that means we're going to have to actually leave people alone. We're going to have to let them make their own decisions, let them screw up on their own. And we're going to have to resist the compelling urge to use the government (there's that phrase again!) to pick the pockets of people who don't engage in self-defeating behaviors to compensate for those who do.

Because you can't have it both ways. You can't say that people should be left alone to behave the way they want but then make everyone else pay for the effects of that behavior.

Well, I'm certainly on board with that! Let's dispose of the nanny-state and the chaperone-state. For a lot of the same reasons expressed above. Trying to run people's lives for them, either to correct their morals or to bail-out their mistakes, is ineffective, and gets in the way of that "personal responsibility" concept we were talking about above. Perhaps I'm more of a libertarian than I know?

This is a hard point for some to accept, I know. The natural response to something offensive is to say, "there oughta be a law!" Conversely, to say something ought to be decriminalized, usually phrased "legalized", sounds like an endorsement. It's not. People who know me are aware of my personal morality, it's not hard to pick up. I am, I say with some embarrassment, something of a prude. You be amazed at the list of popular TV shows I don't watch. Believe me, I'm very anxious over the state of morality in our culture; we are a decadent society, and I hope it changes soon. Despite all that, I cannot see the sense in criminalizing the merely distasteful and prurient. There are far better ways to defeat vice, if that is what you truly want to do.

Posted by Jay on August 6, 2005 at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 04, 2005

Our national shame

I'm a proud patriot in a long line of proud American patriots, but I recognize that elements of our national history, our American story, are uncomfortable, even shameful. In years past Americans, great people that they were and are, have done things that in retrospect we wish we could erase from the books. I'm confident that they thought they were doing the right thing, and yet I can see for this perspective that they were in the wrong. It is to our credit that we recognize and admit to these faults and reflect on them.

I haven't the hubris to believe that my generation of Americans are so pure and righteous that there is nothing in our national actions that history will judge harshly. I fear at times that there is plenty. Our efforts to fight global terror will, I hope, be seen as noble and necessary, if a bit flawed in execution, but I am convinced that our shamefully profligate use of energy will bring us scorn from future generations, and rightfully so.

I hate to link to the same columnist twice in a day, but Thomas Friedman has some words on the newly passed Energy Bill that I want to note.

Sorry to be so cynical, but an energy bill that doesn't enjoin our auto companies to sharply improve their mileage standards is just not serious. This bill is what the energy expert Gal Luft calls "the sum of all lobbies." While it contains some useful provisions, it also contains massive pork slabs dished out to the vested interests who need them least - like oil companies - and has no overarching strategy to deal with the new world.

And the world has changed in the past few years. First, the global economic playing field is being leveled, and millions of people who were out of the game - from China, India and the former Soviet empire - are now walking onto the field, each dreaming of a house, a car, a toaster and a microwave. As they move from low-energy to high-energy consumers, they are becoming steadily rising competitors with us for oil.

Second, we are in a war. It is a war against open societies mounted by Islamo-fascists, who are nurtured by mosques, charities and madrasas preaching an intolerant brand of Islam and financed by medieval regimes sustained by our oil purchases.

Yes, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism: our soldiers and the fascist terrorists. George Bush's failure, on the morning after 9/11, to call on Americans to accept a gasoline tax to curb our oil imports was one of the greatest wasted opportunities in U.S. history.

I haven't thought much about an emergency GWOT gas tax; it certainly would have helped to pay for the war, and it would have been an important signal to the American people and the Saudi's that we "get it." Unfortunately, it is stunningly clear that we don't get it. I've supported this President on many issues and at the polls, but his bred-in blindness about energy policy, and what certainly looks like an ideologically-driven blindness amongst his advisers, is perhaps his greatest failing. Conservatives will scoff to hear it, but in a few decades, when the Islamo-fascists have been suppressed and become footnote in history, the repercussions of American energy and environmental policy in this decade will still be effecting the world, and we will not be fondly remembered for it.

It seems as though only a big crisis will force our country to override all the cynical lobbies and change our energy usage. I thought 9/11 was that crisis. It sure was for me, but not, it seems, for this White House, Congress or many Americans. Do we really have to wait for something bigger in order to get smarter?

It seems so. Sadly, there is every reason to believe that we'll get it.

Posted by Jay on August 4, 2005 at 09:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I'm ready to sign up for this campaign

Thomas Friedman makes what ought to be a reasonable proposal, can the United States not achieve telecom service and internet access equal to what other countries in Europe, Asia and even the third world enjoy today?

I've been thinking of running for high office on a one-issue platform: I promise, if elected, that within four years America will have cellphone service as good as Ghana's. If re-elected, I promise that in eight years America will have cellphone service as good as Japan's, provided Japan agrees not to forge ahead on wireless technology. My campaign bumper sticker: "Can You Hear Me Now?"

I remember a time, 'bout 15 years ago or so, when over 50% of the internet domain names, and internet traffic, was confined to this small set of California counties. I'm glad to see the 'Net, and the WWW that runs on it, become truly global, but I would have preferred that the area remain in the lead in terms of technology in use. Visitors coming to tech conferences are shocked to find that they have better bandwidth, better reception, and more access points at home. It's bad enough that far from considering general public WiFi, Palo Alto is still working on getting reliable fiber-based data infrastructure for the community.

I'm tempted to say something along the lines of "we can put a man on the moon, (or, to use a more up-to-date example, "watch a battle in Iraq unfold in real-time") , but why can't we get decent wireless phone reception in the heart of Silicon Valley?" I won't ask the question because I already know the answer. In this area, another "generally accepted fact" is the mind-boggling tech ignorance of the Washington crowd.

A ran into an old friend last week who has been working in London for a year now. He enjoys the city but commented that he was distressed by the overall air of incompetence he found among the British. "They have a great history", he said, "but they have lost their edge." I'm disturbed to think that he might be right, based on what's in the news this last month. I'm even more disturbed to here similar sentiments from some of my Indian neighbors and co-workers. Of course, they're talking about America.

Posted by Jay on August 4, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack