Friday, March 30, 2007

Distracted from Afghanistan?

The emphasis on Afghanistan echoed across the Democratic aisle in Congress from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to former admiral and now Rep. Joe Sestak. It is a staple of the three leading Democratic candidates for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. It is the constant refrain of their last presidential candidate, John Kerry, and of their current party leader, Howard Dean, who complains “we don't have enough troops in Afghanistan. That's where the real war on terror is.”

Is Iraq really that important? Is it anything more than a distraction from the "real" war?

Al Qaeda has provided the answer many times. Osama bin Laden, the one whose presence in Afghanistan presumably makes it the central front in the war on terror, has been explicit that “the most serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War that is raging in Iraq.” Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has declared that Iraq “is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era.”

And it's not just what al Qaeda says, it's what al Qaeda does. Where are they funneling the worldwide recruits for jihad? Where do all the deranged suicidists who want to die for Allah gravitate? It's no longer Afghanistan, but Iraq. That's because they recognize the greater prize.

Whether Iraq was important before we invaded, it's supremely important now.

Who's lying about Iraq?

Norman Podhoretz looks at the stories told about the Iraq war.

Among the many distortions, misrepresentations and outright falsifications that have emerged from the debate over Iraq, one in particular stands out above all others. This is the charge that George W. Bush misled us into an immoral or unnecessary war in Iraq by telling a series of lies that have now been definitively exposed.

What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. In this it resembles nothing so much as those animated cartoon characters who, after being flattened, blown up or pushed over a cliff, always spring back to life with their bodies perfectly intact. Perhaps, like those cartoon characters, this allegation simply cannot be killed off, no matter what.

...even stipulating--which I do only for the sake of argument--that no weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq in the period leading up to the invasion, it defies all reason to think that Mr. Bush was lying when he asserted that they did. To lie means to say something one knows to be false. But it is as close to certainty as we can get that Mr. Bush believed in the truth of what he was saying about WMD in Iraq.

How indeed could it have been otherwise? George Tenet, his own CIA director, assured him that the case was "a slam dunk." This phrase would later become notorious, but in using it, Mr. Tenet had the backing of all 15 agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States. In the National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, where their collective views were summarized, one of the conclusions offered with "high confidence" was that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions."

The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel and--yes--France all agreed with this judgment. And even Hans Blix--who headed the U.N. team of inspectors trying to determine whether Saddam had complied with the demands of the Security Council that he get rid of the weapons of mass destruction he was known to have had in the past--lent further credibility to the case in a report he issued only a few months before the invasion:

The discovery of a number of 122-mm chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at a storage depot 170 km [105 miles] southwest of Baghdad was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved there in the past few years, at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions. . . . They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg. The discovery of a few rockets does not resolve but rather points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for.

Mr. Blix now claims that he was only being "cautious" here, but if, as he now also adds, the Bush administration "misled itself" in interpreting the evidence before it, he at the very least lent it a helping hand.

Debate: Dennis Prager v. Sam Harris

A debate on the existence of god.

Sailors in Iran

The propaganda war continues.

One of the graphics shows the location of the captured ship. The first location reported by Iran was clearly in Iraqi waters. The subsequent edited data place it in Iranian waters.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gaming the SAT

Years ago, when I was getting ready to take the GRE (big brother to the SAT), I found a book describing how to game that test. It was based on a games theory approach to the test, and offered a collection of maybe a couple dozen rules to follow to boost your score.

I don't know how well it worked, but I got a pretty good store on the test.

Now, we see the same kind of thing happening with the essay portion of the SAT.

When College Board announced that they were adding a writing component to the SATs, critics alleged that there was no way to legitimately grade the writing of that many essays each year and that the test would devolve down into writing formulaic essays. Well, now an MIT professor has written a paper outlining what students need to do to game the test and present the illusion of good writing.

And of course, he has come up with a formula.

The Democrats' Iraq gamble

Thomas Sowell offers his comments on the Democrats' rhetoric, and their gamble in Iraq. One of their gambles is that they will be allowed sufficient time before their base holds them to their rhetoric.

One of the dangers in being a demagogue is that some of your own supporters — those who take you literally — can turn against you when you start letting your actions be influenced by realities, instead of following the logic of your ringing rhetoric.

That is what seems to be happening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other liberal Democrats in Congress.

Antiwar protesters in Washington and outside her home in San Francisco are denouncing Pelosi and other congressional Democrats for not cutting off the money to fight the war in Iraq.

Iran's act of war

The editors of NRO ask several experts about the implications of Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors, and what should be done about it.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest:

...there is no cost-free solution. No magic airstrike, no deus ex machine covert operation, no “grand bargain,” no display of Security Council unanimity over anemic sanctions, is going to result in an Iran that gives up its nuclear program, ends support for terrorism, stops its pursuit of regional hegemony and creates conditions for the disappearance of the Islamic Republic

Walid Phares, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies:

...a multidimensional campaign should be launched, systematically yet gradually, instead of a single retaliation. Along with vigorous diplomatic pressures, the Coalition should formally condemn the regime and call for its isolation. It must create an unbalance of power with Iran via regional deployment while extending an emergency program of support to democracy forces within Iran, including a serious opposition broadcast.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is co-author of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave, 2005):

That Iranian decision makers took such a step is not the result of too little diplomacy, but rather too much. Since Germany launched its critical dialogue with Iran in 1992, European countries have showered the Islamic Republic with apologies and incentives to compromise. Rather than abandon terrorism as a tool of state or reconsider its clandestine nuclear program, the Iranian government has redoubled its efforts to defy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s May 31, 2006 offer to engage Tehran resulted not in a suspension of uranium enrichment, but rather public gloating by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about U.S. weakness. Nor did the British “softly-softly” approach toward Tehran or its proxies in Basra bring peace in our time. Rather, it convinced the Revolutionary Guards that the British were targets of least resistance.


Tehran has grown accustomed to expect reward for non-compliance. It is time U.S. officials if not their European counterparts recognize failure. Ratcheting up pressure only enables Iranian officials to adjust. True leverage requires comprehensive sanctions which can be lifted in response to changes in Tehran’s behavior. The West should abandon the illusion that factionalism within the Iranian government matters. The Office of the Supreme Leader has exercised remarkable control and coordination over its security apparatus. Presidents, whether pragmatic, reformist, or hardline, may differ in style, but have all operated toward the same goals. The White House should not differentiate between officials, power structures, and proxies and should hold the Iranian government accountable for all its actions.

Saul Singer, editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post:

Iran’s kidnapping of British soldiers from Iraqi waters is reminiscent of Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979. This is a regime that does not recognize basic notions of sovereignty and the rules of the game between nation states. Yes, it is an act of war, but this too, to the mullahs, is just another Western nicety to be ignored.

Iran is convinced that the more it plays hardball and breaks rules, the more the West will be intimidated and the safer the regime will be. The West must show this calculation is mistaken by raising the costs of Iranian behavior higher and faster, thereby deterring further Iranian escalation.

Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

Once again, Tehran is testing the waters to see just how far it can violate international law, this time by seizing 15 British sailors conducting anti-smuggling patrols in Iraqi territorial waters. The timing of this stunt — on the eve of unanimous passage of yet another United Nations Security Council Iran nuclear-sanctions resolution — suggests that it may have been an attempt to distract or a clumsy effort to intimidate. This much, however, is clear: Supporters of the U.N. and international law must now not only demand that Tehran return the sailors, but comply with the U.N.'s demand to stop exporting arms and making nuclear fuel (an activity that could bring Iran within days of acquiring a bomb). To help assure this result, states should also heed U.S. appeals against lending trade credits to Tehran, investing in its energy sector, or supporting its nuclear and long-range missile programs. Finally, states offering Tehran incentives (including the U.S.) need to insist that before Iran takes advantage of any such offers, it must first dismantle its nuclear fuel-making plants and allow the IAEA to conduct exhaustive wide-area surveillance to make sure Iran is entirely out of the bomb-making business. To attempt anything less only risks emboldening Iran even further.

Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq

Iraq is only part of the war on terror – but it is a part.

Iraq is only one recent theater, albeit a controversial one, in an ongoing global struggle. This larger conflict arose not from the Iraqi invasion of 2003, but from earlier radical Muslim rage at the modern globalized world, the profits and dislocations from Middle East oil, and Islamic terrorism that ranges worldwide from Afghanistan to Thailand.

Should a peace candidate win the American presidency in 2008, prompting the U.S. to pull out of Iraq before the democracy there is stabilized, in the short term we will save lives and money. But as the larger war continues after we withdraw, jihadists will still flock to the Sunni Triangle. Hamas and Hezbollah will still rocket Israel. Syria will still kill Lebanese reformers. Iran will still try to cheat its way to a nuclear bomb. Ayman al- Zawahiri will still broadcast his al Qaeda threats from safety in nuclear Pakistan. The oil-rich, illegitimate Gulf sheikdoms will still make secret concessions and bribe increasingly confident terrorists to leave them alone. And jihadists will still try to sneak into the United States to kill us.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Breaking news: Answers In Genesis "researcher" lied!

In other astonishing news, atom bombs are loud.

Dr. David Menton of Answers in Genesis has written the latest reaction to Tiktaalik roseae. Interestingly, the article makes almost no reference to the Tiktaalik fossils themselves, except where facts are made up.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Seeing red

Mice have been engineered with cone cells that are sensitive to red light.

Researchers have engineered mice to express an additional photoreceptor, a transformation that may mimic the evolution of trichromatic vision in primates, reports this week's Science. In the study, mice that express a human cone pigment sensitive to long-wavelength light can see colors that normal mice cannot.

"What this shows is that animals can develop quite sophisticated discrimination capabilities just by inserting a new class of receptors at the very front end of the visual system," said David Williams of the University of Rochester in New York, who was not involved in the study. "That's really fundamentally important in understanding how sensory systems develop."

Mice normally have two types of cone photoreceptors -- blue- and green-sensitive -- which gives them dichromatic vision. Many primates have trichromatic vision arising from the addition of a third, red-sensitive photopigment. In Old World primates, this third pigment comes from a separate gene on the X chromosome. In New World primates, the third pigment arises from a polymorphism in a single X-linked gene, which means that only females heterozygous at this locus have trichromatic vision.

Some scientists have suggested that adding a new cone pigment might be sufficient to extract new color information, "but there's been no real proof of this," said lead author Gerald Jacobs of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

One interesting point: The "design" of the third pigment in primates is different for the two groups of primates. Either we're not looking at Intelligent Design, or we've got two different designers trying not to infringe on each other's patents.

Researchers previously created a knock-in mouse in which some of the coding sequences for the normal medium-wavelength (green) pigment gene were replaced with human long-wavelength (red) cDNA. Breeding produced males and homozygous females possessing either green or red cones plus heterozygous females with a mixture of the two cone types.

To see whether the addition of this photopigment actually changed color vision in the mice, Jacobs and his co-workers trained mice to identify which of three panels was illuminated with a different color than the other two. After thousands of training trials, the researchers found that most heterozygous females could discriminate between colors that were roughly red and green, while mice with only green cones could not.

"This is really a landmark paper in sensory neuroscience," Williams told The Scientist. The results suggest that "all you need is the right sensory input and the brain will take care of the rest by itself."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

To fight, or not to fight

Peter Wehner offers his take on the Democrat plan to micromanage the Iraq war from Congress.

In wartime, day-to-day military operations are not neatly broken down into arbitrary categories that can be codified into law. Under proposals by Democrats, for example, the military might have to increase the number of lawyers to scrutinize battlefield decisions by military commanders.


There is no precedent in American history for succeeding in a war when the commanders were taking battlefield direction from members of the House and Senate.

Not all that long ago, leading Democrats thought arbitrary and rigid timetables were a very bad idea. Speaking at the National Press Club in 2005, now-Majority Leader Harry Reid said this: "As far as setting a timeline, as we learned in the Balkans, that's not a wise decision, because it only empowers those who don't want us there, and it doesn't work well to do that."

Six months later, the now-Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, put it this way: "A deadline for pulling out . . . will only encourage our enemies to wait us out." He added it would be "a Lebanon in 1985 [sic]. And God knows where it goes from there."

And three months later, the junior Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said this: "I don't believe it's smart to set a date for withdrawal. I don't think you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy so they can await you."

What is perhaps most striking about the Democratic proposals, at least in terms of their timing, is that they are advocating withdrawal at precisely the moment when the new strategy, which has been in place barely a month, is beginning to show signs of progress.

If we retreat from Iraq, Islamic jihadists will not go gently into the good night.

And there's more. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A book to consider

New book on gay marriage: David Blankenhorn, a self-described liberal Democrat, comes out forcefully against recognizing same-sex marriage in a book being released today. Blankenhorn heads a think-tank called the Institute for American Values, and has written much on the effects of fatherlessness in families. I haven't read the book yet, but Blankenhorn is as smart and articulate as they come in the ongoing national debate over gay marriage. His book should be well worth a look from anyone who follows the issue closely.

The pacifism of Human Rights Watch

David Bernstein examines a piece at Tikkun Magazine for some insight into the mind of "a leading modern NGO/human rights advocate".

My father had the good fortune to escape Nazi Germany in July of 1938. Among the lessons that I drew from his stories was that military force alone is not enough to combat the world’s evils.

That's a rather odd lesson to draw, I think. Historians seem to agree that if Great Britain and France had challanged Germany militarily any time before the annexation of the Sudetanland, Germany would have been at a decided disadvantage, and would have had to retreat.

I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe in using military force in places like Darfur, where it is necessary to stop the killing.

Note the example Roth gives. It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense.

We also are challenging America’s method of fighting terrorism. There is nothing that is a greater affront to human rights principles than the deliberate killing of civilians. But the Bush administration has chosen to fight terrorism without regard to human rights.

Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq and Afghanistan would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights. One can think that the Administration actually has some regard for human rights, or that it thinks that the negative publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq would outweight the benefits, but the idea that the U.S. is indiscriminately violating human rights, given the firepower available to the U.S. military, is facially absurd. Such overstatement hardly lends credibility to Roth and HRW.

Overall, I think it's fair to conclude that Roth and HRW, like Amnesty International, are part of the international far left. That's not to say that they don't sometimes do yeoman's work on human rights issues, but that their reports, public statements, et al., must be read critically in light of their underlying ideology, which despite Roth's protestations, is essentially pacifist.

Monday, March 19, 2007

...A hockey stick broke out

As the joke has it, "I was at a fight and a hockey game broke out."

Orson Scott Card recounts the tale of a man who was looking at some cooked data, and a hockey stick curve broke out.

Here's a story you haven't heard, and you should have.

An intelligence source, working for a government agency. He's not a spy, he's an analyst. He uses computers to crunch numbers and at the end of his work, out pops the truth that was hiding in the original data. Let's call him "Mann."

The trouble with Mann is, he has an ideology. He knows what he wants his results to be. And the original numbers aren't giving him that data. So the agency he works for won't be able to persuade people to fight the war he wants to fight.

Well, that's not acceptable.

Here's the amazing thing about Mann's original report: He's not the only researcher working in this field. In fact, it's the job of many hundreds of researchers to refuse to accept his data at face value. After all, his findings disagree with everyone else's. Before they accept his results, they have a duty to look at his software, look at his data, and try to duplicate his results.

But nobody does it. Not a soul.

Nor, when it goes public, does anyone in the press check the results -- because they want him to be right, too.

Steve the Canadian Businessman

Not until a Canadian businessman -- let's call him "Steve" -- took a look at the stats and got curious. Now, it happens that Steve is in the mining business; he also happened to be a prize-winning math student in college. He knows how to read number sets. He knows what good analysis looks like.

He also knows what cooked figures look like. He has seen the phony projections that companies use when they're trying to swindle people. Their results are too perfect. Mann's report looks too perfect, too.

Read It For Yourselves

I could not possibly array all the evidence here; you must read the books for yourself. Unstoppable Global Warming is a highly accessible book written for ordinary educated readers. It's the book I recommend most highly.

Shattered Consensus, on the other hand, uses the language of various disciplines of science to a degree that makes some chapters fairly difficult for untrained readers, though the key chapter I cited here, on the Hockey Stick Hoax, is quite readable and worth looking at by everybody.

About those U.S. attorney firings...

Quite interesting to compare the fuss being made with the reporting of Clinton's 1993 wholesale firings.

And here:

Sen. Clinton knows a good deal about how the process works -- her husband summarily dismissed 93 U.S. attorneys in March 1993 even though previous practice when a new administration took office had been to keep attorneys in place until their replacements had been approved.

Update: Beldar writes more on the subject, including:

I would be very, very, very, very surprised if any U.S. attorney in the last three decades has ever handled a single important investigation or prosecution entirely on his or her own, without staff involvement. And the notion that any of them could have been unfairly canned because of their failure to cooperate in some major subversion of justice, or because they were about to uncover some malfeasance on the part of an administration ally — without the knowledge and loud public outcry of many career staff members — is simply so improbable as to be fantastic (in the sense of "almost certainly someone's politically-inspired fantasy"). For that to happen without multiple whistle-blowers strikes me as about likely as Attorney General Gonzales calling a mass meeting of several dozen Washington-based DoJ lawyers working on anti-terrorism matters and saying, "Okay, gang, from now on, we're going to ignore anything that's possibly related to al-Qaeda" without any of them making a peep.

Iraqi opinion poll

DESPITE sectarian slaughter, ethnic cleansing and suicide bombs, an opinion poll conducted on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has found a striking resilience and optimism among the inhabitants.

The poll, the biggest since coalition troops entered Iraq on March 20, 2003, shows that by a majority of two to one, Iraqis prefer the current leadership to Saddam Hussein’s regime, regardless of the security crisis and a lack of public services.

...49% of those questioned preferred life under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, to living under Saddam. Only 26% said things had been better in Saddam’s era, while 16% said the two leaders were as bad as each other and the rest did not know or refused to answer.

Another surprise was that only 27% believed they were caught up in a civil war. Again, that number divided along religious lines, with 41% of Sunnis believing Iraq was in a civil war, compared with only 15% of Shi’ites.

ORB interviewed a nationally representative sample of 5,019 Iraqi adults between February 10-22. The margin of error was +/- 1.4%.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The patriot act

A selection of articles that turned up at a Townhall search on "Patriot Act"...

Three Cheers for the Patriot Act
The 9/11 Commission has revealed another zealot who supports the dreaded USA Patriot Act, insisting that "everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful." Not a few things. Not even most things. "Everything." Who is this thoughtless pawn of John Ashcroft? None other than former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno.
Preserve the Patriot Act
That would be particularly true if the Patriot Act’s most vociferous critics on the Left and their less numerous (and most unlikely) bedfellows on the Right were to have their way. They have tended to characterize the Act as an assault on the basic freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights and have sought far-reaching changes in the tools it provides law enforcement to detect and prevent terrorist plots inside the United States.
In reality, the Patriot Act is an eminently sensible overhaul of the government’s antiquated counter-terror arsenal, an overhaul that reflects the realization that we cannot hope to fight a 21st century war using 20th century legal instruments. Consider two of its elements whose repeal the critics have most insistently demanded: 1) the so-called “library records” provision (Section 215) and 2) the authorization of what have been derided as “sneak-and-peek” search warrants (Sec. 213).
Overblown fears about the Patriot Act
...terrorists can't be rooted out unless investigators have the means to find them. And for years, federal agents were barred from using tools in counterterrorism work that were readily available to agents pursuing gangsters or drug dealers. Nor could investigators hunting terrorists swap potentially useful information with criminal investigators -- an intelligence "wall" that helps explain the government's failure to expose the 9/11 plot before it was carried out.
The Patriot Act was designed, among other things, to plug those gaping holes. The wisdom of doing so is suggested by the fact that Al Qaeda has not managed to pull off another attack on US soil. The fears some expressed when the law was first enacted -- that it would trigger a wave of repression, that domestic dissenters would be silenced -- turned out to be groundless. If anything, the Patriot Act should be more popular today than when it was passed by a nearly unanimous Congress in 2001.
Checking out the Patriot Act
But while the Patriot Act gives the government important?and limited?new powers, it?s actually being applied only rarely. For example, despite all the complaints from librarians, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced last fall that the federal government has never used Section 215 to search library records. Not once. It?s difficult to understand how Section 215 could be considered abusive of rights when it?s never been used.
But instead of being glad that the law is being judiciously applied, the American Library Association?s executive director said that the lack of warrants proves the law isn?t needed. ?They have demonstrated that there is no need to change the tradition of protecting library patrons? reading records,? Emily Sheketoff sniffed.
Wrong. What the federal government has actually done is prove that it won?t abuse Section 215. But the fact it?s never been used doesn?t prove it?s not needed. As in the Moussaoui case, there may well come a time when we need information, and we?ll be glad we can get it with a judge?s warrant.
We should keep a careful eye out to make sure the Patriot Act isn?t abused, just as we should keep a careful eye on everything the federal government does. But many librarians are stressing out over nothing. Next time, they should do a little research before they get worked up over a sensible reform.
PATRIOT Act and the "message" problem
The USA PATRIOT act of 2001 is crucial for the war on terror. The bill is long. You can read the whole thing at the Cato institute, if you have an iron will. And you should read it. But, if you are a conservative, you have long recognized that the PATRIOT act is a hard sell. The tools that are provided by this legislation are of the sort that make a small-government conservative squirm.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


(What Would Gandhi Do?)

(Hat tip: Instapundit.)

Besides coolers and mattresses, protesters have brought along a giant paper mache statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who is pretty much the symbol of the anti-war movement. Code Pink was founded on his birthday, and when Saddam Hussein was being given a last chance to open Iraq to U.N. weapons inspectors, posters appeared around America asking “What would Gandhi do?”

And that’s a pretty good question. At what point is it okay to fight dictators like Saddam or the al Qaeda terrorists who want to take his place?

It turns out that the answer, according to Gandhi, is NEVER. During World War II, Gandhi penned an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis. Later, when the extent of the holocaust was known, he criticized Jews who had tried to escape or fight for their lives as they did in Warsaw and Treblinka. “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife,” he said. “They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.” “Collective suicide,” he told his biographer, “would have been heroism.”

Green cars worse for the environment

That's right. The total cost of energy (that's manufacturing and operating costs) for a Prius is $3.25 per mile over the 100,000 miles you can expect it to run. A Hummer on the other hand is expected to run 300,000 miles (You know the old saying, "GM cars run bad longer than most cars run.") at $1.95 a mile.

OK, maybe you're not going along with that 300,000-mile Hummer. So give the Hummer a 150,000 mile life -- that's still $2.93 vs. the Prius' $3.25.

For what it's worth, I got 303,000 miles out of my Toyota van, and would have gotten more, if the last mile hadn't been into a six-car pile-up.

That's just the conclusion of a fascinating article by Chris Demorro that ran last week in the Central Connecticut University Recorder. Here's the much juicier stuff:

Building a Toyota Prius causes more environmental damage than a Hummer that is on the road for three times longer than a Prius. As already noted, the Prius is partly driven by a battery which contains nickel. The nickel is mined and smelted at a plant in Sudbury, Ontario. This plant has caused so much environmental damage to the surrounding environment that NASA has used the ‘dead zone’ around the plant to test moon rovers. The area around the plant is devoid of any life for miles.

The plant is the source of all the nickel found in a Prius’ battery and Toyota purchases 1,000 tons annually. Dubbed the Superstack, the plague-factory has spread sulfur dioxide across northern Ontario, becoming every environmentalist’s nightmare.

Media vs. War on Terror

MRC analysts analyzed 496 stories that aired on ABC’s World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News between September 11, 2001 and August 31, 2006. They examined all evening news stories about three major elements of the post-9/11 war on terrorism: the treatment of captured terrorists at Guantanamo Bay (277 stories); the National Security Agency’s program to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists calling to or from the U.S. (128 stories); and the USA Patriot Act (91 stories). Major findings:

  • Most TV news stories about the Patriot Act (62%) highlighted complaints or fears that the law infringed on the civil liberties of innocent Americans. This theme emerged immediately after the law was first proposed in September 2001, less than a week after the 9/11 attacks. Only one report (on NBC) suggested the Patriot Act and other anti-terrorism measures "may not be enough."
  • ABC, CBS and NBC heavily favored critics of the Patriot Act. Of 23 soundbites from "experts" (such as law professors or ex-FBI agents), 61 percent faulted the law as a threat to privacy rights. Of 19 soundbites from ordinary citizens, every one condemned the Patriot Act, despite polls showing most Americans support the Patriot Act and believe it has prevented new acts of terrorism.
  • Most of the network coverage of Guantanamo Bay focused on charges that the captured al-Qaeda terrorists were due additional rights or privileges (100 stories) or allegations that detainees were being mistreated or abused (105 stories). Only 39 stories described the inmates as dangerous, and just six stories revealed that ex-detainees had committed new acts of terror after being released.
  • Network reporters largely portrayed the Guantanamo inmates as victims, with about one in seven stories including the word "torture." The networks aired a total of 46 soundbites from Guantanamo prisoners, their families or lawyers, most professing innocence or complaining about mistreatment. Not one report about the Guantanamo prisoners included a comment from 9/11 victims, their families or lawyers speaking on their behalf.
  • Most network stories (59%) cast the NSA’s post 9/11 terrorist surveillance program as either legally dubious or outright illegal. Exactly half of the news stories (64) framed it as a civil liberties problem, while 38 stories saw the President provoking a constitutional crisis with Congress and the courts. Only 21 stories (16%) focused on the program’s value as a weapon in the War on Terror.
  • ABC, CBS, and NBC were five times more likely to showcase experts who criticized the NSA’s surveillance program. Of 75 total soundbites, 41 of them (55%) condemned the program, compared to just eight (11%) from experts who found it worth praising. The CBS Evening News has so far refused to show any pro-NSA experts.

MRC report for 2003

The following month-by-month review shows how liberal bias contaminated the coverage of the major news stories of 2003, even as so many reporters continue to deny such bias exists. As the 2004 presidential campaign gets underway, the media elite — the Big Three networks, CNN, major newspapers and newsmagazines, wire services and taxpayer-subsidized public broadcasting — will surely be the Democrats’ greatest asset, as they twist their stories to boost liberals and thwart conservatives.

Kling and Cowen on Libertarianism

It seems to me, as time passes, that Libertarianism (upper-case "L") is an extremist philosophy. This post looks at some of the problems the Libertarian philosophy seems to miss addressing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Conservative" media bias

(Hat tip: NRO Media Blog.)

In my view, the media did have a strong left-wing tilt for many years. But over the last 20 years or so, I think that has mostly disappeared. Major newspapers like the Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage. Their editorial pages are still pretty liberal, of course, but the Post in particular is far less liberal in its editorial positions than it was in the 1970s.

If, as I believe, the major media tilted left and have moved toward the center, then this means they moved to the right. It is this movement that the left has picked up on and is complaining about. But the idea that the media now tilt toward conservatives is absurd.

Austin Bay: We're not losing in Iraq

In January 2003, I argued that toppling Saddam's tyranny in Iraq would do two things: begin the process of fostering political choice (democracy) in the Middle East and bring al-Qaida onto a battlefield not of its choosing. Moreover, that battlefield would be largely manned by Muslim allies, exposing the great fractures within Islam and the Middle East that al-Qaida's strategists tried to mask by portraying America as "the enemy."

Credit the Iraqi people with taking the opportunity by conducting three honest, open, democratic elections. In May 2006, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed a democratically elected, consensus-seeking government not simply in Mesopotamia but in the heart of the politically dysfunctional Middle East.

That's an astonishing achievement.

Al-Qaida's now-deceased emir in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, understood the stakes. In a message to al-Qaida (intercepted by the Coalition in February 2004), Zarqawi wrote that after Iraqis run their own government, U.S. troops will remain, "but the sons of this land will be the authority. ... This is the democracy. We will have no pretexts." Iraq's new army and police will link with the people "by lineage, blood and appearance."

The terrorists and tyrants understand. It's a shame America's chatterers don't.

Raising prices can be a good thing

Walter Williams makes the point that it's too cheap (read, too easy) for nonsmokers to impose their will on smokers, and ban smoking in any number of places.

The cost to nonsmokers to impose their will on smokers, say, in a restaurant, bar or airplane, is zero, or close to it. They just have to get the legislature to do their bidding. When the cost of something is zero, there's a tendency for people to take too much of it. You say, "Williams, in my book, there can never be too much smoke-free air!" Here's a little test. Say your car's out of gas and stuck in a blizzard. You wave me down for assistance. I say, "I'll be glad to give you a lift to safety, but I'm smoking in my car." How likely is it that you'll turn down my assistance in an effort to avoid tobacco smoke? You might be tempted to argue, "That's different." It's not different at all. The cost of a smoke-free environment is not what you're willing to pay.

Say you don't permit smoking in your house. When I visit, I offer to pay you $100 for each cigarette you permit me to smoke. Instantaneously, I've raised the cost of your maintaining a smoke-free environment. Retaining smoke-free air in your home costs the sacrifice of $100. Of course, I could offer you higher amounts, and economic theory predicts that at some price, you'll conclude your 100 percent smoke-free air isn't worth it.

And in fact, the Marriott hotel chain has banned smoking in all its hotels. If you do smoke in your room, the hotel tacks on an additional $250 charge to pay for restoring the room to its un-smoky condition.

That's 2½ cigarettes for Walter Williams.

The problem in our society is that laws have created too much smoke-free air. To a large degree, it's the fault of smokers, who haven't created a cost to smoke-free air.

You say, "What do you mean, Williams?" Here's an example: A number of years ago, a congressman (who shall remain nameless) invited me to give a lecture to some staffers. I asked him if it was OK for me to smoke during my lecture, whereupon he told me about Congress' no-smoking rule. I told him that if I weren't allowed to smoke, I wouldn't give the lecture. The congressman promised he'd tell the guard that I could smoke, and I gave the lecture. There have been other occasions where I've attached a price to smoke-free air. I fully recognize that people and organizations have their rules, but I also have mine.

My rule is by no means absolute. There are instances where I put up with zero-priced smoke-free air, and there are other instances where I don't. It all depends on the cost to me. I think other smokers ought to adopt the same agenda. Say you're asked to do some volunteer work. You might answer, "Yes, if I'm allowed to smoke." This strategy might also be a nice way to get out of doing something without saying no. Just ask whether smoking is permitted.

The bottom line – prices shape behavior.

The economic lesson to extract from all of this is that zero prices lead to sub-optimal outcomes, and it doesn't just apply to the smoking issue. How would you like zero prices at the supermarket or clothing store? If there were, what do you think you'd see on the shelves when you arrived? If you said, "Nothing, because people would take too much," go to the head of the class.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gay genes?

From the Albert Mohler blog:

What if you could know that your unborn baby boy is likely to be sexually attracted to other boys? Beyond that, what if hormonal treatments could change the baby's orientation to heterosexual? Would you do it? Some scientists believe that such developments are just around the corner.

More to the point, in Radar magazine, Tyler Gray understands that such a development would reshape the abortion and gay-rights debates in America:

Conservatives opposed to both abortion and homosexuality will have to ask themselves whether the public shame of having a gay child outweighs the private sin of terminating a pregnancy...

In Keith Hartman's book, The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse, we see a future where the "gay gene" has, in fact, been isolated, and a fetus can be tested to see whether or not it carries the gene.

In this future, many stains of Christianity, such as the Southern Baptist church, decided it was better to abort gay children. The Catholic Church decided that when it declared abortion evil, it meant it.

As a result, after about 2015, Southern Baptist children were guaranteed to be heterosexual, but Catholic children had the usual chance of being gay.

One side effect was that gay culture adopted Catholic crucifixes and insignia as a way of announcing their gay status. Another side effect was that teenagers would adopt the same insignia, and would engage in same-sex hugging and kissing, as a way of rebelling against their parents. (Johnny's not gay, why's he doing that?)

Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.

The same thing can be said with regard to evolution.

Christians (and Muslims) need to be careful about any sort of claim that science can never account for the existence and development of life on this planet.

Mohler could as easily have written: "We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic fact that God is the author of whatever rules and mechanisms are discovered."

If your faith demands you reject a finding of science, then ultimately it's your faith that loses.

Monday, March 05, 2007

650,000 Iraqi dead?

The statistics made headlines all over the world when they were published in The Lancet in October last year. More than 650,000 Iraqis – one in 40 of the population – had died as a result of the American-led invasion in 2003. The vast majority of these “excess” deaths (deaths over and above what would have been expected in the absence of the occupation) were violent. The victims, both civilians and combatants, had fallen prey to airstrikes, car bombs and gunfire.

Body counts in conflict zones are assumed to be ballpark – hospitals, record offices and mortuaries rarely operate smoothly in war – but this was ten times any other estimate. Iraq Body Count, an antiwar web-based charity that monitors news sources, put the civilian death toll for the same period at just under 50,000, broadly similar to that estimated by the United Nations Development Agency.

The implication of the Lancet study, which involved Iraqi doctors knocking on doors and asking residents about recent deaths in the household, was that Iraqis were being killed on an horrific scale. The controversy has deepened rather than evaporated. Several academics have tried to find out how the Lancet study was conducted; none regards their queries as having been addressed satisfactorily. Researchers contacted by The Times talk of unreturned e-mails or phone calls, or of being sent information that raises fresh doubts.

Iraq Body Count says there is “considerable cause for scepticism” and has complained that its figures had been misleadingly cited in the The Lancet as supporting evidence.

Discrimination and the 14th Amendment

Clayton Cramer notes that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution does not appear to prohibit discrimination against women.

I pointed out that the evidence is quite clear that the primary focus of the 14th Amendment, as demonstrated by statements from both proponents and opponents, was protecting the rights of blacks, and secondarily, the rights of Unionist whites who either already lived in the South, or had moved there after the Civil War. (Amusingly enough, I have seen liberals defend the racism of affirmative action on the grounds that the 14th Amendment was intended to protect blacks--not whites. There's some merit to such an historical analysis, as offensive as the results might turn out to be.)

So, one of the liberals commenting over there decided to show his superiority over me by asking if the 14th Amendment prohibited discrimination based on gender. The answer is very clearly, "No." If it had, there would have been no need for the later amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, and all this discussion of an Equal Rights Amendment a couple of decades back would have been completely pointless.

As late as Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948), the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law that prohibited woman from being licensed as bartenders unless they were the wife or daughter of the owner, and decided that this was no violation of equal protection:

The Constitution in enjoining the equal protection of the laws upon States precludes irrational discrimination as between persons or groups of persons in the incidence of a law. But the Constitution does not require situations 'which are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same.' Tigner v. State of Texas, 310 U.S. 141, 147 , 882, 130 A.L.R. 1321.

In short, as long as the statute's distinctions between different women in different situations had some connection to a perceived public need, there was no violation of equal protection--and certainly, the mere fact that the law discriminated against women as a sex was not an equal protection violation.

Old news

A discussion, at the Washington Post, with Laurie Mylroie, author of "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America."

Clemmons, N.C.: Given the restrictions on Iraq, how would Saddam Hussein have gone about assisting in the recent attacks?

Laurie Mylroie: The restrictions on Iraq don't affect its ability to carry out terrorism. That's the whole point. That is the ONE thing that Saddm can do to get even and carry out his revenge. And so he does.

Durham, N.C.: Is it possible to declare "victory" in our war against terrorism if Saddam Hussein were left in power?

Laurie Mylroie: Absolutely not. Saddam is the biggest terrorist threat to America. He has been attacking this country since the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, in which the mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, sought to topple the buildings. Eight years later, they completed the job.

As long as Saddam is in power, he will seek to harm us.

Interrogation 101

Hugh Hewitt interviews retired Army Colonel Stuart Herrington.

Update: Fixed link 12/9/07

Friday, March 02, 2007

Passing on an embed in Iraq

Michael Fumento has decided not to take this particular offere to embed with the troops in Iraq.

I asked for two embeds in the Baghdad area or one in Baghdad and one in Diyala, a hotspot on the Iranian border. These would allow the reporting I specialize in, which isn't "war" generally but combat. I like to report on the men doing the fighting (see this and this, for example). The vast majority of American reporters in Iraq play it safe in Baghdad hotels, and even embeds often go no further than a major camp that's as safe as the International Zone. But there is also a dedicated corps of citizen combat reporters in Iraq. I told Combined Press Information Corps (CPIC), which embeds reporters, that I preferred to be with the 82nd Airborne--which had only recently arrived and which is my old sister unit--but didn't insist on it. If I'm where the action is, I'm happy.

I was first offered an embed in Tikrit and said no. Saddam's birthplace sees about as much combat as Malibu these days, for the best of all reasons--it has been pacified. A car bomb here and there perhaps, but that's not combat, even if reporting on car bombs is all the mainstream media wants to do. Let them. If I'm going to be somewhere as peaceful as Malibu, I'd rather be in Malibu. It has a beautiful beach, you can buy beer, and you're not paying a fortune each day for war insurance.

I don't belong to the mainstream media, and I assume that was the root problem. It's okay for the AP to come in and claim four mosques were burned down that weren't (the Washington Post said it was five, the New York Times said two), or that six Sunnis were horribly burned alive who weren't, or for the Los Angeles Times to report that an airstrike that never occurred killed dozens of women and children. But when a citizen embed (albeit one attached to a magazine) wants in, he gets shuffled off to the lemon stand.

In a guerrilla war, perception is more important than reality. For example, the Tet Offensive saw the Viet Cong crushed, but the media converted it into an incredible communist victory. When CPIC caters to reporters who put headlines before facts, who want to portray the war as hopeless, and who show the military in as bad a light as possible and then proceeds to shunt aside reporters with a track record for veracity and supporting the troops, it shows utter ignorance of this truism. Somehow I don't think this was part of Gen. Petraeus's plan.

When China sneezes...

...we may not catch cold, but we feel it.

Tuesday's market melt-down is exactly the sort of thing the Dobbs-Buchanan-Hillary Clinton-economic-school-of-nationalism loves to complain about... China's market crash causes a mini-crash here. Aha, they say, this is what's wrong with globalism.

But I'm not sure they've really thought things through. After all, if a ten percent drop in the SSE, yields a three percent drop in the Dow, what would taking China completely out of the economic picture do? In other words, if the sino-screechers are right that trade with China leaves us vulnerable to downturns such as this week, then doesn't that require them to believe that the run-up was due to the trade to begin with? If trade with China is to blame for the value lost on Tuesday, than it gets the credit for the value that was there before?

Adam Smith realized that in a free market, the only reason a trade takes place is that it leaves both parties better off than they were before the trade. This is true whether we're looking at trade between individuals, or trade between hemispheres.

Yes, we are dependent on one another, but that's life. Asia depends on the west, and vice versa. Canada and the US depend on one another. New York and Texas produce different goods and services and trade them. I depend on my local gas station for gas and the police for protection. They depend on my payment and taxes respectively, for their livelihoods. I mow the lawn, my wife cleans the kitchen. We're dependant on one another. If she gets sick, my life gets harder too. This a decision that I thought we made a long time ago. We were forced to choose between self-sufficiency and prosperity. We chose the latter.

Once, the tribe was the biggest thing that most people ever saw in their lives. Life was nasty, poor, brutish and short. Eventually we left the tribe behind and entered the marketplace, the marketplace of ideas, of geopolitical power and of goods. We got richer, a lot richer. We also become more dependant on one another. The principle is the same no matter what the scale, whether it's an attempt to create an utterly self-sufficient Bowyer Tribe (complete with organic farm and guard dogs) or an attempt to create an utterly self-sufficient America Tribe. The result is the same - destruction of wealth, not just America's, but the whole world's.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nine facts about climate change

This links to a PDF from the Lavoisier group.

1. Climate change is a constant. The Vostok Ice Cores show five brief interglacial periods from 415,000 years ago to the present. The Greenland Ice Cores reveal a Minoan Warm Period 1450–1300 BC, a Roman Warm Period 250–0 BC, the Mediaeval Warm Period 800–1100AD, the Little Ice Age and the late 20th Century Warm Period 1900–2010 AD.

2. Carbon dioxide is necessary for all life on earth and increasing atmospheric concentrations are beneficial to plant growth, particularly in arid conditions. Because the radiation properties of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are already saturated, increasing atmospheric concentrations beyond current levels will have no discernible effect on global temperatures.

3. The twentieth century was almost as warm as the centuries of the Mediaeval Warm Period, an era of great achievement in European civilisation. The recent warm period, 1976–2000, appears to have come to an end and astro-physicists who study sunspot behaviour predict that the next 25–50 years could be a cool period similar to the Dalton Minimum of the 1790s-1820s.

4. The evidence linking anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide emissions and current warming is limited to a correlation which holds only for the period 1976 to 2000. Attempts to construct an holistic theory in which atmospheric carbon dioxide controls the radiation balance of the earth, and thus determines average global temperatures, have failed.

5. The anthropogenists claim that the overwhelming majority of scientists are agreed on the anthropogenic carbon dioxide theory of climate control; that the science is settled and the debate is over; and that scientific sceptics are in the pay of the fossil fuel industries and their arguments are thus fatally compromised. These claims are an expression of hope, not of reality.

6. Anthropogenists such as former US Vice President Al Gore blame anthropogenic emissions of CO2 for high temperatures, droughts, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and retreating glaciers, and a decline in the polar bear population. They also blame anthropogenic CO2 for blizzards, unseasonable snow, freezing weather generally and for hurricanes, cyclones and other extreme weather events. There is no evidence at all to justify these assertions.

7. Increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will have negligible impact on the earth’s radiation balance and will promote plant growth everywhere. There is no need to sequester CO2 in the ground or to subsidise nuclear or other non-carbon based methods of energy production.

8. ‘Tropical’ diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are not related to temperature but to poverty, lack of sanitation and the absence of mosquito control practices.

9. The decarbonisation of the world’s economy would, if attempted, cause huge economic dislocation. Any democratic government which seriously sought to fulfil decarbonisation commitments would lose office. Shutting down coal-fired power stations and replacing them with renewable energy sources such as windmills or solar panels will cause unemployment and economic deprivation.

The world's policeman

Critics of US interventions like to ask, "who made us the world's policeman?"

I guess the US did. In any event, we are.

America is the reluctant sheriff of a wild world that sometimes seems mired in wrongdoing. The UN has nothing to offer in the way of enforcing laws and dispensing justice, other than spouting pious oratory and initiating feeble missions that usually do more harm than good. NATO plays a limited role, as in Afghan-istan, but tends to reflect the timidity (and cowardice) of Continental Europe. Britain and a few other nations such as Australia are willing to follow America's lead but are too weak to act on their own.

That leaves the U.S. to shoulder the responsibility. Otherwise--what? Is brute force to replace the rule of law in the world because there's no one to enforce it? I wish some of those who constantly criticize America's efforts and the judgment of President Bush would ask themselves this simple question: Would you really like to live in a world where the U.S. sits idly by and lets things happen?

Life in such a world would be like the bestial existence described in Thomas Hobbes' great work, Leviathan. If people "live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man." In that lawless state there will be "continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

America is fundamentally and instinctively idealistic. But following these ideals and acting as the world's policeman raises moral issues. We all agree that the sheriff must be righteous, brave and resolute. But should he also, if the situation demands, be cunning, devious and Machiavellian? In short, should America, along with its idealism, also practice realpolitik? And won't these two forces be in constant practical and moral conflict?