Dec 27, 2009

Hemingway's Tom and Jerry Moments [LINK]

From a list, compiled by Paul Johnson for his book Intellectuals, of injuries sustained throughout the life of Ernest Hemingway:

As a child he fell with a stick in his mouth and gouged his tonsils; caught a fishhook in his back; sustained injuries at football and boxing. The year 1918 saw him blown up in the war and smash his fist through a glass showcase. Two years later, he cut his feet walking on broken glass and started internal bleeding by falling on a boat-cleat. He burned himself badly smashing up a water-heater (1922), tore a foot ligament (1925) and had the pupil of his good eye cut by his son (1927). In spring 1928 came the first of his major drinking accidents when, returning home, he mistook the skylight cord for the lavatory chain and pulled the whole heavy glass structure down on his head, sustaining concussion and needing nine stitches. He tore his groin muscle (1929), damaged an index finger with a punch bag, was hurt by a bolting horse and broke his arm in a car smash (1930), shot himself in the leg while drunk and trying to gaff a shark (1935), broke his big toe kicking a locked gate, smashed his foot through a mirror and damaged the pupil of his bad eye (1938) and got two more concussions in 1944, by driving his car into a water tank in the blackout and jumping off a motorcycle into a ditch. In 1945, he insisted on taking over from the driver to take Mary to Chicago airport, skidded and hit a bank of earth, breaking three ribs and a knee and denting his forehead (Mary went through the windscreen). In 1949 he was badly clawed playing with a lion. In 1950 he fell on his boat, gashing his head and leg, severing an artery and concussing himself for the fifth time. In 1953 he sprained his shoulder falling out of his car, and that winter there was a series of accidents in Africa: bad burns while drunkenly trying to put out a brush fire, and two plane accidents, which produced yet another concussion, a fractured skull, two cracked spinal discs, internal injuries, a ruptured liver, spleen and kidneys, burns, a dislocated shoulder and arm, and paralysed sphincter muscles. The accidents, which usually followed drinking, continued almost to his death: torn ligaments, sprained ankle climbing a fence (1958), another car crash (1959).

Dec 18, 2009

Not Exactly on Message [LINK]

This image came from the "americagov" Flickr stream, an account run by the U.S. government: Here is the caption text:

"Brad Pitt is Saving Planet Earth in Copenhagen"... a fun experimental project that will feature 12 non-Brads dressing up like the megastar to promote climate change action.
Could anything better get across the point: not what it pretends to be?

Dec 17, 2009

The Gandhi Nobody Knows [LINK]

After the adulatory film Gandhi was released in 1983, the film critic Richard Grenier wrote one of the all-time best take-downs, which is available here in the Commentary archives. In a nutshell, here's what you didn't know about the guy:

  • Gandhi was overall obstinate, intolerant, and tyrannical. Many of his contemporaries believe his erratic behavior actually delayed Indian independence.

  • Gandhi was greatly concerned about the rights of Indians in South Africa, but not at all about South African blacks.

  • Gandhi's concern for low-caste Hindus was minimal. Like many Hindus, Gandhi believed one's caste was indelible in this life, and that karma affected status only following reincarnation. (His first "fast unto death" was in response to a British proposal to increase the status of "Untouchables.")

  • Gandhi was unconcerned with indigenous movements outside of India, and was opposed, for example, to a similar rise in Arab nationalism amid the decline of the Ottomon Empire.

  • Gandhi advised Jews and Czechs to commit mass suicide in the face of the Nazis, and exhorted the British to surrender, all based on the mistaken notion that Hitler was "not a bad man," and could be persuaded via nonviolence. Gandhi sent a correspondingly naive letter to Hitler himself.

  • Oddly, when World War II started, Gandhi contradicted himself by endorsing Poland's military resistance, referring to it as "almost nonviolent."

  • Undermining British efforts considerably, Gandhi made preparations to allow incursion of the Japanese army into India via Burma, after which he intended to "make them feel unwanted."

  • While Gandhi championed nonviolence to throw off English control, he often abandoned the ideal during the bloody partition of 1947, during which roughly 1 million people were killed in religious violence.

  • The great Indian poet Tagore regarded Gandhi's direct confrontations with the British as so reckless and fanatical that any claims to being "nonviolent" were disingenuous. While Gandhi's core followers used nonviolent tactics, the multitudes of hangers-on that vastly outnumbered them were not so controlled.

  • Gandhi was greatly concerned with the bowel movements of those around him, and constantly gave and received enemas. A large portion of his writings concern excretia.

  • Gandhi was ignorant on matters of nutrition, subjecting himself and others around him to dangerously unhealthy diets, primarily as a function of his obsession with bowel movements.

  • Gandhi was fanatically opposed to all but the most minimal sexual activity necessary to procreate. Like many Hindus, he believed semen to be a precious bodily fluid stored within his skull, and that any emission diminished him. When he had a nocturnal emission, "he almost had a nervous breakdown."

  • Gandhi slept naked with teenage girls, ostensibly to test his vow of chastity.

  • Gandhi was greatly opposed to all modern technology above the level of spinning wheel, effectively enshrining poverty as an ideal. But oddly for such a luddite, he hand-picked Nehru as India's first Prime Minister, a Fabian Socialist committed to rapid industrialization.

  • Gandhi allowed his wife to die of pneumonia rather than be treated with an "alien" penicillin shot, but had no similar qualms being treated soon afterwards with quinine once he contracting malaria. He also had no problem having his appendix removed by British doctors.

  • To top it off, Gandhi treated his sons monstrously.
For what it's worth, Jason DeParle published a critical response to Grenier in the 9/83 issue of The Washington Monthly.

Dec 16, 2009

Mainstreamers at ABC News [LINK]

Note the word "teabaggers," which has an offensive slang usage, instead of "tea party activists."

Dec 7, 2009

Climategate on Front Page of Washington Post [LINK]

It's nice to see the climategate controversy reported prominently, in what is overall a very good article, at least considering the expanse of the scandal. Still, this sentence made me howl:

Phil Jones, the unit's director, wrote a colleague that he would "hide" a problem with data from Siberian tree rings with more accurate local air temperature measurements.
Jones didn't say that he hid data that was a problem simply because it was inaccurate; he said that he employed a "trick" suggested by Michael Mann specifically to "hide the decline." It's a well-known "divergence" problem: relatively recent tree-ring data over the past 50 years or so suggest declining temperatures, while presumably more accurate thermometer data indicate a warming trend. The problem is that Jones used tree rings before 1960 and thermometers afterwards, resulting in a dubious hockey-stick rise, one that conveniently matches other dubious hockey sticks Mann produced. If what you're measuring is the historical size of fruit, I expect you'd get much the same result if you started by measuring apples and ended up with oranges. This need to mix dissimilar data sets also raises the obvious question: if the tree-ring data offers such an inaccurate representation of recent climate, why would it offer a reliable proxy for past climate trends? If there's an honest answer, I'd like to hear it.

Also, this sentence:

These are the facts: After an increase in 1998, the world has been historically warm, but its average temperatures have not climbed steadily. Does that mean climate change has stopped?
it would be far more accurate to say that following an increase leading up to 1998 ... average temperatures have "flattened." Also, it begs the question: temperatures are "historically warm" compared to what? Perhaps we're in a warm period compared to the recent Little Ice Age, but not the Medieval Warm Period that immediately preceded it. And, of course, under no circumstances does climate change "stop." (We should "stop" using the meaningless term "climate change.")

Dec 5, 2009

Sustainable Sex [LINK]

Der Spiegel reports that the mayor of Copenhagen is trying to prevent climate summit attendees not to solicit the the city's prostitutes, by sending attendees post cards that read: "Be sustainable - don't buy sex." Whatever else you can say about prostitution, it's not obvious what it has to do with "sustainability." Isn't it said to be the world's oldest profession? That strikes me as pretty sustainable. Perhaps solicitation might be said to be unsustainable because it costs so much. Alternately, men simply do not have the physical stamina for their sexual escapades to be sustainable.

Dec 2, 2009

Climate change as a moral issue [LINK]

MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen, has a fascinating op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, outlining his skepticism of the theory of CO2-forced global warming. What struck me was this statement, which especially in light of the ongoing "climategate" scandal, suggests that Al Gore's formulation that climate change is primarily a "moral" issue, comes at great cost to scientific progress:

The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA [globally averaged temperature anomaly], to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate.... Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways....

Dec 1, 2009

A question about dendroclimatology [LINK]

If the CRU ignored tree-ring data from after 1960 because they suggested cooling, thus diverging from presumably more accurate thermometer data that showed warming over the same period, on what basis can tree-ring data be considered accurate when estimating temperatures from long before the standardization of thermometer readings?

Nov 23, 2009

I Nominate Harry [LINK]

There has been a growing scandal centered around the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU), an important center of research into the theory of human-influenced climate change, a.k.a. anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Most importantly, CRU maintains the Global Climate Dataset, the raw historical weather station data that forms the primary source for climate change estimates generated by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

On November 19, someone, either a hacker or (more probably) a disgruntled CRU insider, surreptitiously posted a 65-megabyte archive, titled FOI2009.zip, for "Freedom of Information." It features a selection of emails from among CRU's principal scientists dating back to 1996, along with much associated data, code, and documentation, all of which are now being widely scrutinized. Amidst denunciations that the files were illegally obtained, several of the scientists involved have corroborated that many are genuine, and there have as yet been no challenges to the authenticity of any. I believe it unlikely at this point that any of the material will turn out to have been fabricated.

So far, the emails have generated the most comment. Writing for Pajamas Media, Charlie Martin identifies three distinct scandals they reveal, and provides supporting links to specific files for each assertion:

The emails suggest the authors co-operated covertly to ensure that only papers favorable to CO2-forced AGW were published, and that editors and journals publishing contrary papers were punished. They also attempted to "discipline" scientists and journalists who published skeptical information.
The emails evidence a remarkable hostility directed towards climate skeptics. In one case, the death of a skeptic is described as "cheering news."
The emails suggest that the authors manipulated and "massaged" the data to strengthen the case in favor of unprecedented CO2-forced AGW, and to suppress their own data if it called AGW into question.
In particular, the emails show a good deal of concern over how to obscure a recent worldwide cooling trend, along with a period 1,000 years ago called the "medieval warm period" in which temperatures rose, with no influence from carbon dioxide, to the point that Greenland could support agriculture.
The emails suggest that the authors co-operated (perhaps the word is "conspired") to prevent data from being made available to other researchers through either data archiving requests or through the Freedom of Information Acts of both the U.S. and the UK.
In particular, the Canadian statistician Steve McIntyre, who publishes the Climate Audit blog, has repeatedly tried to obtain data from CRU, and has repeatedly been turned down. McIntyre was instrumental in discrediting the "hockey stick" graph that purported to show a sudden upward spike in recent temperatures, a graph that featured prominently in Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

 

No doubt, the revelations from the CRU files represent a major scientific scandal that should end some careers in disgrace and perhaps even generate a handful of criminal convictions. It should certainly prompt a thorough review of the current state and quality of climate science across the board. But it would be a mistake to focus too closely on the bad behavior of particular scientists. Even if they had behaved admirably in all other respects, it is now becoming apparent as well that the overall quality of the CRU data is itself quite poor. The likelihood that the debate over massively consequential policy proposals, such as the American "cap-and-trade" bill, might rest even in part on such poor data, is nothing short of alarming.

The blogger Devil's Kitchen posted an extended summary of the contents of one of the files found among the archive's non-email documents directory. The post mainly reproduces and summarizes the highly critical (and salty) comments of one Asimov posted to tickerforum.org. The file in question is called HARRY_READ_ME.txt, a very long text file (15,000 lines, three quarters of a megabyte) that represents a log written by a CRU computer programmer named Ian Harris ("Harry") detailing the extraordinary efforts he went through from 2006-2009 to make sense of CRU's set of raw weather station data.

Mr. Ian "Harry" Harris, "data manipulator"

While the technical content of the file is often esoteric, what comes across very clearly is just how out of his depth Harry was in figuring out the "piles and piles of undocumented and inconsistent datasets," and how ad hoc his solutions were. At one point Harry declares flatly: "There is no uniform data integrity, it's just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they're found." Jumping to random points within this file, you will find many such red-flag statements. Not only can CRU researchers not provide others with the tools to reproduce their results, they cannot themselves reproduce them. Harry's unfortunate and highly questionable task appears to have been to produce Fortran code that takes raw weather station data, matching it to a set of already published results that were produced by some other undocumented process. The format of this varying input, such as the time and place of each sample value, is often a complete mystery. The text is extraordinary in the series of bald assumptions and seat-of-the-pants hacks it reveals. It's not too strong to say that some of CRU's global temperature records were simply made up.

But consider the context in which this data is used. Predictions over future climate change are the result of sophisticated computer models that represent a complex set of variables, ranging from the effects of cloud cover to ocean circulations. There is a great deal of debate over how best to represent these variables. As a highly complex nonlinear system, these climate variables have to be calculated for relatively tiny areas across the Earth, with each set of results affecting surrounding areas dynamically as the model progresses. Given the complexity of the assumptions that go into making such calculations, consider what happens when what you should be able to assume is your most solid set of input data, the actual historical record of past temperature data worldwide, turns out to have been the product of questionable processes. As a result, it is no wonder that CRU has in the past refused to share its data.

For now, I nominate Harry as the most likely source of the leaked CRU documents. To research the unknown process whose results he was trying to match probably meant he had to review a wide range of past correspondence from the CRU server. If he has the patience to rummage through all this code, he certainly has the patience to do the same for ten years of emails. Reading his log file, you get the strong sense that he understands his own limitations in comprehending the data, and that the quality of his work suffers as a result. You get the strong sense that Harry has a conscience. But then, it could be anyone. I'm just guessing. You know, making it up as I go.

Nov 12, 2009

Has 20 Years of Political Correctness Taught Us Nothing? [LINK]

The host of NPR's On Point show, Tom Ashbrook, introduces Susan Shirk, in today's discussion concerning "a Chinese perspective from Shanghai" on President Obama's visit:

From Lincoln, Nebraska, we're joined by Susan Shirk, professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She oversaw U.S.-China policy at the State Department from 1997 to 2000, and she founded the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a forum that right now is sponsoring high-level talks between North Korea, the United States and others over Korean peninsula nuclear issues. Her latest book is “China: Fragile Superpower.” ...
Ashbrook's first question to Ms. Shirk concerns whether China still sees the United States as the #1 world power. Shirk's first utterance of any substance, starting at the 3:10 mark:
Well, I think Asia still respects the United States tremendously, but there certainly are some chinks in our armor…

Nov 6, 2009

It's Contagious! [LINK]

Last night, CNN aired an argument over whether the Ft. Hood shooter, Dr. Hasan, might have suffered from PTSD after treating numerous soldiers who suffered from PTSD. This segment gave me a touch of PTSD, and is likely to do the same for you, especially after the 3:40 mark:

Tomorrow, Mariah Carey! Buford, Illinois, you're on the air!

Oct 25, 2009

Because People Are Starving in Africa, Don't Finish Your Peas [LINK]

Jennifer Aniston explains her regimen:

"I take a three-minute shower," she told Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas Kostigen, authors of The Green Book. She even brushes her teeth while she's in there. "Every two minutes in the shower uses as much water as a person in Africa uses for everything in their life for a whole day!"

(via Althouse)

Oct 17, 2009

NPR Whitewashes ACORN Scandals [LINK]

My letter to NPR:

I am perfectly willing to believe that ACORN does some good work that is deserving of open praise, but Pam Fessler's sympathetic report on the organization strained my patience to the limit. It referred obliquely to "videos" made by two undercover conservative activists, and an account of the pair being turned away at one office, without mentioning their success at getting much the same set of damning footage at no fewer than five different offices, certainly no fluke. It refers politely to the "sketchy advice" the pair was able to solicit from ACORN workers, but did nothing to outline the wide range of criminal activities ACORN workers revealed themselves willing to facilitate. I give credit to Fessler in noting ACORN's embezzlement scandal, but it would have added some perspective to note its new $5 million price tag, up from $1 million. Listeners would have also benefitted from more details on the range of ongoing allegations of voter registration fraud and illegal use of federal funds for explicit political activity. Some of the time Fessler might have used to present such useful contextual information was taken up instead by a tape of one staff member openly weeping at the thought ACORN was being attacked, as if for no reason. Please, don't insult my intelligence.
Consider if several congressmen were caught in a similar undercover sting. Would NPR produce a report reminding us how some congressmen are not corrupt? Please.
UPDATE: About them being roundly turned away at one office, the one in Philadelphia, we've apparently been misinformed.

Sep 28, 2009

Fugitive: The Sequel [LINK]

Tommy Lee Jones should be in talks right now about the film treatment of the Polanski bust.

"But I'm a genius film director..."

"I don't care!"

"But the girl's alright with it now and doesn't want me prosecuted..."

"I don't care!"

"But there may have been irregularities in the original prosecution..."

"I don't care!"

"But most Europeans think this is silly..."

"I don't care!"

"But lots of important people wanted to see me receive this award..."

"I don't care!"

"But wasn't it considerate of me to give her a bu-fu to avoid a pregnancy?"

"I don't care!"

Sep 23, 2009

Terrorist's Apprentice [LINK]

The news that Moammar Qaddafi planned to pitch a tent at the estate of fellow obnoxious attention fiend Donald Trump got me to think of what a perfect scenario it would be for a reality television show:

So, Ahmed, I really like your idea of the targeted assassinations of rival clan leaders, and especially making it look like the Mossad is behind the violence. That was definitely a nice, creative touch. The New York Times would definitely go for that, I'm sure. And it totally nails some basic requirements: before you can be effective in projecting terror outwards, you gotta, gotta always consolidate your power. Can't tell you how many guys come in here with all sorts of gee-whiz ideas, but forgetting to terrorize their own people first. I'm not saying baby steps, don't be bold, but a lot of this is just basic due diligence that should be obvious to anyone who's been in the business.

So I like all that, and it's good stuff we can definitely work with. But I have to say it lost a lot in the presentation. You gotta always pay attention to the details. First of all, totally inappropriate to come in here with all those PowerPoint slides. Doesn't work in the tent anyway. The lighting's all off. I can barely see them, and you should have known that running the power supply all the way from the guard room would be such a distraction. So that was a problem.

But mostly it's just a basic matter of time. I'm a busy man, and if you're going to make me a pitch, it's gotta be BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Understand? And Moammar here, he's got a speech to deliver to the General Assembly in an hour and a half. Means he's got to be on the Hutchinson Parkway in thirty minutes, tops. And that's with a police escort. So don't waste our time with all the boring analysis of the comparative casualty counts, and being on the defensive because you're not going to target a whole city for destruction. Casualty counts mean nothing these days, anyway, when what you're going for is media impact. Doesn't take a lot of casualties to get a big payoff. And I gotta level with you. Dirty bombs and biological agents? I've seen that, I see it all the time as a matter of fact, and it's a whole different animal. You don't always have to compete on that level. Don't even waste time talking about it, is my advice to you.

And frankly, there's not as much of a market for all that stuff right now, anyway, so there's no point in letting it muddy up your pitch. Know your audience. Moammar here's definitely not interested in doing any of that right now. I mean, the time is not right. Market conditions. Nothing but trouble all around. You can see the sort of image he's trying to project, giving up his WMD program and all that. He's definitely not going to be blowing up any planes or discos this time around, so you gotta realize you have a leg up on your competitors. You're already on the same page, and you've got something appealing already in the bag, so why not then recognize that and maximize your advantage as part of your pitch? The guys you're initially competing against are not the Jews or the Americans, they're standing right next to you. They're the ones you gotta be watching out for.

By getting all defensive and trying to measure up to what these other guys are doing, what you're telling me is that deep down, you're not willing to differentiate yourself, and you don't really believe your idea is a good one. And when the rubber hits the road, what I want most is terrorists I know I can rely on. Who'll go that extra distance, and who believe in what they're doing. And yes, who'll blow themselves up if that's what's called for. But sometimes a good strategist with a good overview is worth a whole lot more than a delivery man, and I've seen some definite potential for you on that front. But bottom line, you gotta show up for the game, and to be perfectly honest, you don't strike me as smart enough to realize you might be bringing something more valuable to the table. I don't know, maybe you need to be a delivery man. If you're just gonna be some insecure kid off the street and aren't willing to say, hey, this is me, I've got a lot to offer, I'm going to be a valuable asset to you and your organization, maybe that's what's in the cards for you. That's your decision. I can't make it for you. Maybe you can go work for one of Ahmadinejad's operations and see where that gets you. [laughter]

So, after after some time to consider the matter, and after consulting with my colleagues, I have to ask you to pack up your suitcase bomb. You're fired. You can leave via the front gate, or if you choose to go the other route, you'll be escorted out by a number of virgins. I don't know, are they really? Maybe. Whatever. Thank you. Goodbye.

Sep 15, 2009

If you had to read on piece on health care reform... [LINK]

More than just "required reading," I think this piece should undercut and crowd out all other articles on health care reform, leaving it the only one remaining alternative available.

Sep 10, 2009

Rep. Wilson Shows Poor Taste [LINK]

Shame on Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) for shouting an accusation at the president last night. Follow tradition of British parliament. When being lied to, an inarticulate murmur of disapproval will do.

Sep 9, 2009

Czar Crazy [LINK]

My letter to The New Republic:

John McWhortle is on the right track when he suggests the "trutherism" espoused by Van Jones may represent "a tantrum from people out of power," a "gestural, performative ... animus" on par with the right's recent overreaction to the botched publicity leading up to Obama's address to American students. But it's unfathomable why McWhortle would then consider not only Jones's resignation, but his very repudiation of trutherist ideas inappropriate.

McWhortle says the idea the Bush administration orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks is "hardly unknown among people of the left," which should give us all pause. Leftists may not actually believe that idea, McWhortle suggests, but are willing to give voice to it because being out of power renders them half mad with hysteria. In either case, placing anyone, left or right, who exhibits such behavior in a position of responsibility (even a lowly "czar") is simply a bad idea. You want people who can think clearly and whose perspectives are consistently grounded in reality. Is that too much to ask?

Of course, why should the paranoia of Van Jones be so casually accommodated, but not Glenn Beck's or President Obama's ed-speech protestors?

Aug 23, 2009

Renewing Cash for Clunkers [LINK]

I will miss Cash for Clunkers. How about we give people cash for every bad public policy idea they turn in, so that those ideas can never be used again? To qualify, they would have to suppress the economy, feature significant internal contradictions, upend centuries of common sense, or feature berserk incentives that in short order make them spin out of control. We can bury them all at Yucca Mountain.

Aug 20, 2009

Blackwater and the CIA's "Unsuccessful" Assassination Program [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe regarding a piece reprinted from the New York Times:

A report on Blackwater's involvement in a controversial and now defunct CIA program designed to assassinate top Al Qaeda operatives says the agency "spent several million dollars on the program, which did not capture or kill any terrorist suspects." While nominally true, casual readers may well conclude this money was abjectly wasted, and would find it difficult to grasp an essential point. No part of this program ever became operational, so the fact that it didn't kill any Al Qaeda members is hardly remarkable. Similarly, the statement that Blackwater helped the CIA with "planning, training, and surveillance" implies some other set of activities than those few. The story's headline goes even further in suggesting something might have actually happened: "Blackwater had key role in '04 secret mission."

It's not hard to understand why there would be so little acknowledgment that the program never made it past the planning stage, because then the juicy controversy about it not having been revealed to Congress would evaporate. To the extent there is any acknowledgment, the report implies some controversy over allowing "unaccountable" third-party contractors any involvement in such planning. However, let me express my gratitude at the outcome, in which relatively few CIA agents were diverted from their work of both planning and implementing other programs that ultimately were successful in decimating Al Qaeda.

Aug 19, 2009

Low Unemployment in D.C. [LINK]

Something is wrong with this picture. Indeed.com is a job search engine that has an interesting feature comparing job prospects in different regions of the country. The ratio of job postings to unemployed is twice as good in Washington D.C. than the next-ranked metropolitan area, Jacksonville, Florida. Click to enlarge:

Of course, Detroit provides another major outlier on the other end:

Aug 4, 2009

The Problem with Cash-for-Clunkers [LINK]

It's amusing how the media generally assumes the popularity of the cash-for-clunkers program means it would have been a good thing had only the program been well administered. An economist might see that popularity as a sign of inefficiency: a subsidy to manufacture unnecessary new cars, whose environmental impacts may exceed the marginal amount of pollution generated by the clunker. It gets more absurd the more optimism you apply to future trends. We keep hearing we're on the verge of all sorts of unprecedented boosts in automotive efficiency. If that were the case, keeping all those clunkers on the road for as long as possible, and not retiring them artificially early, would maximize the environmental benefit when it inevitably comes time to switch to a new vehicle.

Jul 23, 2009

In fact, "intricate" is what you might call a "code word" [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

In a report over the controversy surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Globe paraphrases "some black leaders" as saying that Cambridge needs "to address the intricacies of race in a direct manner." This is an absurd statement. If the issue of race is "intricate," it's unclear at best how it could be appropriately addressed in a "direct" manner. In that case, racial matters would be "simple" or "straightforward." Please do not introduce nonsense into your news reports.
...the inevitable end of that sentence being: because there's already plenty of nonsense as it is!

Jul 21, 2009

"Racism" floats to the top of the Henry Louis Gates story [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

The Globe's report on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct, after Cambridge police responded to a call of a break-in at his home, does everything possible to suggest that racism was the underlying factor driving the incident.

It sets a provocative scene of "two black men on the porch of a stately home on a tree-lined Cambridge street." It then relates how Gates's outraged Harvard colleaugues assert that racism flourishes "even in a liberal enclave like Harvard Square." It relates perceived racism at the hands of police around Harvard, mentions one professor having been stopped on the street following a robbery, along with his assertion that "black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment."

Only three quarters of the way through the article is there a somewhat accurate description of what led to the police call: that two men were repeatedly trying to force their way through the front door. No, they weren't just standing on the porch being black.

Given Gates's strong reaction to the police entering his house under the misapprehension that he might have broken in, the Globe's reporters might as well have dispensed with the racial angle, instead suggesting that even in neighborhoods surrounding the Harvard campus, outraged self-importance is prevalent.


UPDATE: It made it, without any substantial changes. And correction: the arresting officer asserts in his report that he only entered the premises to follow Gates to the room where he kept his identification, understandable as a matter of safety.


UPDATE: While I have every reason to believe the incident was not racially motivated, and was mostly driven by the lack of cooperation Gates displayed to the police, this post by Patterico actually persuaded me that the cops were wrong to arrest Gates. In that, I believe my experience may mirror that of the arresting officer himself. I am so deeply offended at these ritualistic, spurious invocations of racism as to consider them fighting words, and I become overly willing to break out the handcuffs on the guy.

That said, and even agreeing with Patterico on this point, I'm ready to break out the handcuffs once again after witnessing President Obama address the matter in a press conference tonight, in an absolutely disgraceful performance, even after the perfunctory admission of ignorance on the matter, completely omitting anything Gates might have done to provoke his own arrest, and blathering on yet more about racism. Clearly, this is going to be the template: even though we have a black president, the fact that such a prominent African American intellectual can be arrested on his own porch means nothing has changed, and that it's open season on the black man! What utter mendacity.

Sure enough, Gates is certainly getting a lot of mileage out of the incident, as this Globe follow-up makes clear:

"I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong," Gates said in a phone interview from Martha's Vineyard. "If he apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling.

"That's what I do for a living," he added.

Indeed, that's what he does. Thanks, by the way, for the generous offer! Could it be Gates's deep familiarity with "the history of racism in America" have in any way colored his perceptions of events others might have seen as mundane? Does the fact that he got busted simply serve as confirmation bias? Crap, he even may make a documentary based on the incident, because, after all, this is what he does for a living.

Jun 17, 2009

Will History be Kind to Bush on Iran? [LINK]

Prepare yourself for the unsettling possibility that history may be kind to the Bush administration's efforts to forment democracy in Iran. As one data point, note this three-year-old editorial from the Irish Independent. It appeared during a period of intense speculation that the Bush Administration was preparing a military strike against Iran:

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, told Congress that "we may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran". Drawing inspiration from the Cold War, America is putting in place a strategy to undermine the Iranian regime from within, not least by pumping money into radio and television broadcasts aimed at Iran—particularly young Iranians deemed to be hostile to the regime and friendly to the West....

The trouble is that there is no guarantee of when this policy will succeed, if ever.

Here's a similar Los Angeles Times op-ed from the same period by a pair of analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations. Its title, "The wrong way to fix Iran," may well prove ill-chosen.

The Bush administration quietly orchestrated a major shift in U.S. policy toward Iran this month, requesting $85 million from Congress to help bring about regime change in Tehran. Washington is now seeking not just to contain Tehran's nuclear ambitions but also to topple the Iranian government.

The war in Iraq has made all too clear the high cost of using military force to attain regime change. Accordingly, the administration is taking a page from Eastern Europe, where the United States used radio broadcasts and direct assistance to opposition groups to help undermine authoritarian governments and promote democracy. Administration officials explicitly cited Poland's Solidarity movement as a model.

Although democratizing Iran is a worthy objective, the administration is making a mistake in embracing a strategy for regime change based on the European experience. Conditions in Iran bear little resemblance to those that accompanied the downfall of dictatorial regimes in Europe....

Here's a similar one from The Guardian called "Drumbeat sounds familiar," which notes the Bush administration's effort to bolster democratic agitation on the part of Iran's ethnic minorites:
[Iranian officials] cite a US decision to spend $75m on funding potential Iranian opposition forces, including NGOs, trade unions and human rights groups, and local language propaganda broadcasts—tactics pioneered in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine. Iran accuses the US of stirring discontent among its Kurdish, Baluch and Azeri minorities, suspicions fed by a US marine corps investigation to gauge the strength of opposition to the central government among non-Persian groups....
Certainly, there's little way yet to gauge the degree to which today's democratic agitation may have been influenced by Bush administration policy, but it's worth a try.

Jun 1, 2009

Objecting to Race vs. Race Consciousness [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe. The report in question is a reprint of a Los Angeles Times piece that features a casual smear of Senator Cornyn. As blogger Patterico points out, the Times subsequently removed the offensive text without noting the error.

According to a report on the Supreme Court confirmation process, Texas Sen. John Cornyn "pledged that he and other Republican lawmakers would probe deeply into Sotomayor's past comments and rulings to see whether her heritage colors her ability to make fair decisions." This characterization represents a smear. Cornyn did not say "her heritage" might affect her ability to make fair rulings. Indeed, in the same interview with ABC News, he said the opposite: that it "shouldn't make any difference what your ethnicity is." What Cornyn did call attention to was Sotomayor's own racially-charged suggestion that her status as a "wise Latina woman" would allow her to make better decisions than a white male. Cornyn did not question Sotomayor's race, but rather her race-consciousness. Perhaps sensitive to this important distinction, the Los Angeles Times, from which the Globe procured the report, unceremoniously removed those words from its online version of the text. Perhaps the Globe could, alternately, do the decent thing and offer a correction.

May 26, 2009

Boston Globe suggests, approvingly, that Obama's Iran policy inhabits parallel universe [LINK]

Peter Canellos in the Boston Globe, May 26, 2009:

In the climactic action sequence of "Star Trek," the year's most popular movie, the new, younger Captain Kirk does something novel for a big summer action flick: He offers leniency to an enemy.

Turning to a puzzled Mr. Spock, Kirk explains that showing leniency toward the rival Romulans could promote trust and increase the chances of reconciliation, for the betterment of the galaxy.

"It's logical," he declares.

But before the data-driven Spock can process this unique piece of information, the Romulan leader, Captain Nero, seems to remember that he's in an American action movie and is expected to act accordingly. He snarls that he would rather be blown to shreds than accept a nickel of kindness from Kirk, who promptly obliges him.

It's hard to know what the filmmakers intend to convey through this age-of-Obama moment....

Here's the crux. Not to spoil the plot, but it appears moral equivalence is so strongly ingrained that it is habitually extended even to disputes between fictional groups such as the Romulans and the Federation:
In the movie's conception of good and evil, both Nero and Spock are acting appropriately in avenging perceived wrongs, and the proof of Nero's evil and Spock's virtue is mainly in the fact that Spock prevails: God, science, nature, and the special-effects team at Paramount all combine to create a universe in which force and justice go hand in hand.

No wonder Nero rejected Kirk's overtures. Cooperation, in this universe, is indistinguishable from submission. Peace is inherently dishonorable.

May 22, 2009

Two, Two, Two Enthusiasms in One [LINK]

In honor of Earth Day, a series of "Eco-Sex" recommendations from Marie Claire, April 2009:

  • Love Yourself, Love Your Planet. Take landfill-clogging batteries out of the equation with Sola, a small bullet-shaped vibrator powered by the sun. ($69.95; shop.libida.com)

  • Conflict-Free Rubbers. When you buy your condoms from the French Letter Condom Company, a chunk of the proceeds go towards ensuring that the rubber-plantation workers receive fair wages. (approximately $13, ethicalsuperstore.com)

  • S&M with a Conscience. Earth Erotics’ Standard Recycled Rubber Whip is a handcrafted spanker made from recycled car and truck tire parts. ($40; eartherotics.com)

  • Give Some, Get Some. Trade in your broken Rabbit and wornout handcuffs for a $10 coupon and free shipping on your next sex toy through the mail-in Sex Toy Recycling Program (recyclemysextoy.com). Sorry, curbside pickup not available.

(via the American Spectator)

May 5, 2009

I read it on Andrew Sullivan's blog [LINK]

"You're all wrong. It turns out it was Michael Palin who's the real mother."

—Winston Churchill

May 4, 2009

The Globe's Non Sequitur [LINK]

My own apparent motivation is to have a letter printed in the last issue of the Boston Globe telling them what imbeciles they are:

A Globe editorial discussing delays in the cabinet approval process features a pair of sentences that, taken together, defy reason. "Yet some interest groups - and senators - seem less interested in considering the merits of a nominee than in scoring political points. The lone vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against Hillary Clinton as secretary of state came from Louisiana's David Vitter, whose reputation as a family-values conservative was damaged in a prostitution scandal."

The Globe appears to be suggesting that any vote against confirming Clinton could not have been due to her merits as a nominee. The Globe also appears to believe that Vitter's status as a hypocrite on "family-values" issues informs his vote against confirmation, but fails to explain how. For the record, Vitter's stated reason for opposing confirmation was potential conflicts of interest stemming from numerous donations to the Clinton Presidential Library from foreign governments.

It's amusing to read one sentence decrying the impulse to score cheap political points followed by another that demonstrates exactly that.

Apr 27, 2009

Report Ignores Revealed Preference [LINK]

A letter in response to a report on my local NPR station:

Tonight WBUR aired an engaging report by Rachel Gotbaum on palliative care, one that focused on the diminishing returns end-of-life medical interventions often bring, especially as medical advances extend lives further and make people more likely to die of long-drawn-out chronic diseases.

I found one aspect of the report questionable, however: its conclusion that patients are ill-served by the medical establishment's focus on doing everything in their power to keep their older patients alive. Instead, the report cited a "national survey" that people would prefer to die at home, surrounded by family, and with no pain -- a preference we're clearly not meeting because 80% of us die in institutions.

The problem with such survey data is that it's far less reliable than data on how people actually behave. Of course, when asked, people will naturally respond that they don't want to die in pain, but that's not necessarily a realistic option if your goal is to live longer. Those who value a pain-free death so highly would commit suicide well before their chronic conditions caused such discomfort. A proper survey should mirror such real-life constraints, e.g., by asking: "which would you rather do, die peacefully at 80, or more painfully at 85, but at least be able to see your grandchildren grow a few more years?"

By ignoring the manifest preference expressed by the behavior of health care consumers, the report instead focuses exclusively on the role of health care providers. It refers to a "health care system determined to keep everyone alive," as if patients have no choice in that determination. The report hints that increased rationing of health care is the appropriate response, which only seems natural given its narrow focus on cost-efficiency.

It's certainly appropriate to consider alternate systems that deliver a lower level of health care, especially when the costs of such expensive end-of-life care are not internalized. However, the suggestion that we'd prefer not to avail ourselves of such care is a dubious one.

This argument based on "revealed preference" reminded me of a similar one I posed concerning the death penalty.
UPDATE: Sure enough, the following day's report told the heart-wrenching story of a man who wanted to die from a chronic condition at home, but who after collapsing there was taken to an emergency room, where he was force-fed with a feeding tube, and tied down to prevent him from yanking it out of his mouth, until finally he died. This truly horrifying story was taken to mean health care providers should not go to great efforts to keep patients alive. But this seems a simple issue of communicating the patient's wishes. Assuming the patient is competent, the decision is his.

Apr 23, 2009

Is Craigslist Responsible? [LINK]

Another letter to the Globe:

Editorializing on the murder of Julissa Brisman, the Globe concludes that unless Web firms such as Craigslist "take more responsibility for how their sites are used," Americans may "need to get used to a lot more risk in the spaces where they gather." This is both vague and incorrect in this instance. Craigslist does nothing to increase the risk a young woman offering herself as a prostitute already faces when going into a hotel room with a total stranger. There is no risk whatsoever of bodily harm to other Americans. If the phrase "spaces where they gather" encompasses online virtual spaces, the only risk is seeing such a classified posting, akin to seeing a print ad for "escort services."
Is it worth pointing out that web sites like Criagslist are the primary reason the Boston Globe is failing as a business?
UPDATE: It made it, along with two editorial changes.

First, they changed "prostitute" to "provider of erotic services," leading to a far more awkward sentence. The original editorial features the word "prostitution", even if not calling any one person a "prostitute." While the change could be a routine PC filter, it's possible the Globe was trying to be sensitive to the possibility that Brisman may not have been engaging in prostitution, in the strict legal sense of a direct exchange of sex for money.

Second, they removed the phrase in this instance, which significantly alters my meaning. That is, I consider it a truism that when compared with other crimes aided by traditional communication technologies, the Web increases the overall risk of such violent encounters due to increased opportunities for interaction.

Apr 7, 2009

Is Globe Dying Because of its Bias? [LINK]

Hurry! There may not be many more letters like these to the Globe left!

I disagree with various letter writers pointing to liberal bias as the main source of the Globe's financial problems. Newspapers are in trouble across the board, primarily due to migration of readers and advertising revenue towards the Internet. If liberal bias were costing the Globe widespread circulation, the Herald would be expected to benefit from the error, but instead we find that paper is also struggling to stay afloat.

That said, the Globe clearly does display a leftward bias, and you wouldn't need to look further for an example than today's article by Peter Canellos titled: "In a stroke of brilliance, Obama defies easy caricature." [National Perpective, 4/7/09] It is the sort of highly opinionated, insubstantial "analysis" that would ordinarily belong in a paper's editorial pages, if even there. Asserting that President Obama "floats above the fray," Canellos fails to reference any "stroke of brilliance" that would immunize him from routine criticism other than his "calm, serious manner" and "air of persistence."

While reinforcing a hazily favorable opinion, Canellos shies away from any substantial criticism. In particular, the president's comments -- "We haven't immediately eliminated the influence of lobbyists in Washington. We have not immediately eliminated wasteful pork projects" -- are transparently laughable considering the stimuluating effect the coursing of trillions of additional dollars through Washington has had on lobbyists. Any self-respecting journalist should lunge at the opportunity to highlight such an absurdity. Canellos's point that criticism doesn't stick to this president is made far easier by ignoring such criticism rather than evaluating its merits.

If the Globe is to survive in an on-line world, it will be based on the credibility of its primary reporting operation now that opinions are so easy to generate. To that extent, the Globe's bias matters.

Mar 31, 2009

We'll be eating very safe junk food [LINK]

A letter I sent to my Rep:

I urge you to oppose HR 875, or any similar legislation that imposes additional regulatory burdens on local food providers. The level of food safety in the USA is unmatched, and there is little reason to believe this legislation will improve the quality of our diet. Instead, it will lead to increased centralization overall. The job of regulation will migrate away from states and towards the federal government, whose responsiveness to the lobbying of agricultural giants is well known. Smaller independent food providers will have more difficulty absorbing the resulting regulatory costs than these large conglomerates. Farm stands (such as Verrill's & Mrs. Marabello's) will have to maintain an on-site "Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point" plan, or else be fined up to $1 million. The law's requirements will be especially devastating to purveyors of locally grown, organic, and artisinal food products. In particular, anything that raises the cost of locally grown produce relative to supermarket food will, on balance, decrease the quality of our diet. We'll be eating very safe junk food.

Feb 10, 2009

Google Rolls out "Orwellian" Service [LINK]

Back in 1984, I recall Orwell's book often discussed as a prophesy of our own times. The evidence for such a comparison? Supermarket check-out scanners. Cameras that snapped your picture when you sped through a toll booth.

Peter Funt should look up the word "eavesdrop" in the dictionary. He uses that word, along with other scare words such as "Orwellian" and "snooping," to describe Google's latest "Latitude" location-tracking service. This, in the same paragraph in which he notes it's for "consenting users" who opt in so that they can keep in touch with their friends. By definition, if you opt in, what happens is not "eavesdropping."

After seeing his house pictured on the web using Google's Street Views, which incorporates street-level photos into its mapping service, Funt also worries that burglars might see the "open window on the second floor" and find it inviting. What he fails to mention is that the picture was likely snapped months ago, and that in the meantime he may have had the good sense to close his window.

If Funt insists on using the word "Orwellian," the least he can do is supply credible scenarios in which the technology leads to a totalitarian government. Instead, he asks rhetorically, what if he paid a team to scan innumerable Street View images for "driveways in need of repair, then sold the list to a paving company?" I'll tell you what: at worst, you get a piece of mail from a paving company, which you then throw in the trash.

Funt compares Google's service to existing manifestations of "Big Brother," such as convenience-store security cameras, seemingly oblivious to the actual reason those cameras are there. For one thing, if someone happens to steal Mr. Funt's credit card and pass it at one of those stores, police will use the video to catch the criminal and thus protect Mr. Funt's privacy.

There's an appropriate response to this ongoing hysterical tendency to ascribe malevolence to so many unfamiliar technologies: LOL.


It made it.

Jan 17, 2009

Little Criticism of $160 Price Tag for Obama Inauguration [LINK]

Upon learning the upcoming Obama Inauguration will cost approximately $160 million, roughly quadrupling the overall cost of Bush's 2005 Inauguration, it's a useful exercise to revisit some of the commentary criticizing that previous event.

Here's James Dao in the New York Times, January 23, 2005, in an article provocatively titled "Don't They Know There's a War On"?

Enjoy the party!" a protestor shouted in cheerful greeting to Republicans arriving at a pre-inaugural party here. "People are dying in Iraq. Enjoy the champagne!"

To many Democrats, images of Republicans in sequined gowns and designer tuxedos nibbling roast quail and twirling the Texas two-step in last week's $40 million-plus inaugural extravaganza seemed inappropriate, unseemly, even unpatriotic, when American soldiers are dying in Iraq.

"Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted — if not cancelled — in wartime," Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, chided in a letter to President Bush. Citing Franklin D. Roosevelt's austere fourth inaugural in 1945, Mr. Weiner suggested that the money would have been better spent on armored Humvees and pay bonuses for the troops.

In a nationwide Gallup Poll released last week, 54 percent of respondents said the inauguration should have been toned down because the country was at war....

Note that the only sign of Gallup asking people about Obama’s inauguration centers around whether it’ll be the most significant inaugural in American history, or simply one of the most significant.

Anne E. Kornblut in the New York Times, January 15, 2005:

With less than a week to go until her husband's second inauguration, Laura Bush on Friday defended the decision to hold the $40 million celebration as planned despite a war abroad and the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean.

Inaugurations, Mrs. Bush said, are "an important part of our history."

"They're a ceremony of our history; they're a ritual of our government," she said in a round-table interview with reporters in the White House map room. "And I think it's really important to have the inauguration every time. I think it's also good for Washington's economy, for people to come in from around the country, for the hotels to be full, and the restaurants to be full, and the caterers to be busy. I think that's important."

The BBC News, January 20, 2005:
With an estimated price tag of $40m, the three-day celebration that is President Bush’s second inauguration will be the most expensive ever….

Some have criticised the expense, questioning the propriety of a flashy celebration as US troops are dying in Iraq and South Asia still recovers from last month’s deadly tsunami.

The overt criticism of an inauguration is unusual, but a Washington Post poll found that a majority of Americans would prefer a smaller, more subdued event.

The Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2005:
The coronation — excuse me, inauguration — of George Bush reminded me of the “let them eat cake” days of the French monarchy. Forget mounting casualties in Iraq, tsunami victims and thousands facing starvation in Africa, let’s party! After all, it cost only $40 million; that’s less that a buck apiece for American families living below the poverty line or without health insurance.

While I suppose some sort of ceremony is in order for the beginning of Bush’s second term, it seems unconscionable that such a celebratory mood exists in Washington today. Young kids in their 20s continue to die daily in Iraq, tsunami victims try to reassemble their lives, heavy storm victims in California do the same and dysfunction throughout the world seems at an all-time extreme.

Here's another reference to "let them eat cake," this one from an open letter to President Bush from CBS’s Lloyd Garver, January 12, 2005:
Like millions of Americans, I was moved by your appeal to open my heart and wallet at this time and think about the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Now I’m appealing to you to hold a more modest inauguration celebration so that money can be used for a more appropriate cause.

Currently, the celebration is estimated at a cost of between $40 and $50 million. It’s scheduled to go on for four days, and will include nine official balls, countless “unofficial parties,” and a parade. I know the dollar isn’t worth what it once was, and the price of those little hot dogs keeps going up, but a four-day, $50-million party? Considering what’s going on in the world, these plans make Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” attitude seem like the height of sensitivity….

And that’s all I’m asking. I’m not suggesting that you cancel it. Celebrate. Have a party. Have a big party. Get all dressed up and dance at the elegant ball. Have some ribs at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball. But don’t have a four-day “coronation” that says to the world, “champagne and caviar are more important to us than human lives.” Cut back on the party and ask those guys to give their big money to something that’s really important — just as you asked all Americans.

Charity balls instead of self-indulgent balls seem like a pretty good idea at this time. Think of what could be done with that $50 million if you convinced those sponsors to spend their money on more meaningful things than paté and limos. How many parentless victims of the tsunami could be saved with that money? How much body armor could be provided for our soldiers with that money? How many soldiers’ families who are having a tough time financially could be helped?

Here's the USA Today, January 14, 2005:
President Bush’s second inauguration will cost tens of millions of dollars — $40 million alone in private donations for the balls, parade and other invitation-only parties. With that kind of money, what could you buy?
  • Two hundred Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq.
  • Vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami.
  • A down payment on the nation’s deficit, which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year….
But a recent confluence of events —the tsunami natural disaster, Bush’s warning about Social Security finances and the $5 billion-a-month price tag for the war in Iraq — have many Americans now wondering why spend the money the second time around….

Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, voted for Bush — twice. Cuban knows a thing or two about big spending, once starring in ABC’s reality TV show, “The Benefactor,” in which 16 contenders tried to pass his test for success and win $1 million.

Cuban questioned spending all that money on the inaugural.

“As a country, we face huge deficits. We face a declining economy. We have service people dying. We face responsibilities to help those suffering from the … devastation of the tsunamis,” he wrote on his blog, a Web journal.

Here, by the way, is what Mr. Cuban has to say about the 2009 inaugural on his blog, a Web Journal, thoughts he posted in the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai:
Four years ago I suggested that the Bush administration cancel the inauguration parties and instead ask corporations to donate that money to the victims of the Tsunami.

Its fair to ask where I stand on the coming inauguration and whether parties should be canceled and money sent to the victims of the tragedy in India.

When the tsunami hit, it was a devastaion of epic proportions. Raising money for the survivors and rebuilding was a responsibility we as a nation accepted. We had telethons, events and fund raisers to try to help. The unfortunate situation in India, at least as it stands today, is not one that can be helped by contributions to the survivors. Thoughts and prayers, yes. Potentially support for anti terrorism programs, yes. But re-routing funds from anything to India, as least as far as I am aware, won’t help survivors or hostages at this time.

Point taken. Still, for an analogous well of bottomless need, may I suggest offering relief to mortgage holders facing foreclosure?
UPDATE: Some of my comments in response to the idea that the first quote was out of context, plus some musings on grammar.

Jan 7, 2009

Ecclesiastes 1:9 [LINK]

A useful bit of information:

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Nonsense about Hurricanes [LINK]

A note I just sent to FightGlobalWarming.com:

Your "tick" ad is nothing short of shameful, and to enlist children in dissemination of such propaganda is even worse. There is zero empirical evidence, and only the most speculative theoretical underpinning, for the notion that global warming -- from whatever cause -- might lead to increased severity or frequency of hurricanes. Read the latest IPCC report. If anything, warming should lead to decreased temperature differentials between tropical and polar regions, and thus less severe weather patterns overall.

My sincere belief is this: one day our ancestors will look back and consider our response to global warming. They will conclude that, based on the information available at the time, there were definitely some plausible elements of concern. Still, they will assign the word "hysteria" to this period in all their textbooks. They will look back at us the same way we look back at the McCarthy era.

...to which I'll add that college freshmen will roll their eyes at the thought of having to explain the various ways we displayed our ignorance.