Monday, January 28, 2008

"Toilet to tap" returns!

Orange County is now gearing up to do what Los Angeles tried to do some years ago. It makes sense -- the city of Los Angeles pulls in some 600 million gallons of water each day, and dumps 400 million gallons into the sewers and storm drains over the same period. If we could capture and recycle all that water, we could cut our demand on aquifers and snow melt by two thirds.

Some communities have used reclaimed water for decades to recharge their drinking water supplies. In Virginia, recycled water is added to a stream feeding the Occoquan Reservoir. In Los Angeles, treated wastewater is added to the Montebello Forebay, where it percolates through the soil to replenish the groundwater supply. Also in California, the Orange County Water District's (OCWD's) Water Factory 21 facility reclaims wastewater that is then injected into aquifers to provide a pressurized barrier against seawater intrusion into groundwater.

To meet additional need to prevent such intrusion and to meet increased demand for drinking water, the California Department of Public Health, along with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, approved OCWD's new state-of-the-art water reclamation facility on Jan. 10. The Advanced Water Purification Facility (AWPF) will yield 70 million gal of drinkable water per day, or about 10% of the district's daily need for 2.3 million residents. "It will give us a supply unaffected by drought," notes Mehul Patel, OCWD's principal process engineer.

The final treatment step at AWPF removes low-molecular-weight organics by adding hydrogen peroxide and irradiating with ultraviolet light. Hydroxyl radicals or hydroxide anions will oxidize at least some of the remaining organic contaminants.

WHEN WATER exits the plant, it goes to one of two places. About half is pumped to the coast, where it is injected through wells to form a hydraulic barrier to prevent seawater intrusion into groundwater. The other half is destined for a percolation pond, which is essentially a giant lake set in permeable soil that allows water to percolate down to blend with the groundwater table. Additional filtering occurs in the soil, where naturally occurring bacteria may break down any remaining contaminants. Studies done for the original Factory 21 reclamation plant using noble gases as tracers demonstrated that it takes more than six months for water to travel from injection wells or percolation ponds to drinking water well intakes.

AWPF was more than a decade in the making, incorporating design, process validation, construction, and regulatory approval. The facility's end product is water that meets or exceeds all drinking water standards. "There are hundreds of constituents that we have to test for and then report," OCWD's Patel says, "and there are minimum standards for all of them."

The difference between Orange County and Los Angeles? Orange County appears not to have had a mayoral candidate trying to ride the issue into office.

Life extension news

On the way to an 800-year lifespan?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Global warming and hurricanes

The problem with the issue of global warming is that the planet is such a complicated system, it's very hard to predict just what changes will take place when you change the temperature. Here's a report that indicates the simple, obvious, and entirely predictable change in the number of hurricanes won't be what actually happens.

WASHINGTON - Global warming could reduce how many hurricanes hit the United States, according to a new federal study that clashes with other research. The new study is the latest in a contentious scientific debate over how manmade global warming may affect the intensity and number of hurricanes.

In it, researchers link warming waters, especially in the Indian and Pacific oceans, to increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean near the United States. Wind shear — a change in wind speed or direction — makes it hard for hurricanes to form, strengthen and stay alive.

So that means "global warming may decrease the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall in the United States," according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Miami Lab and the University of Miami.

Also here:

MIAMI (Reuters) - Rising ocean temperatures linked to global warming could decrease the number of hurricanes hitting the United States, according to new research released on Wednesday.

The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, challenges recent research that suggests global warming could be contributing to an increase in the frequency and the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes.

At the same time, it reaffirmed earlier views that warmer sea waters might result in atmospheric instabilities that could prevent tropical storms from forming.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A review of "Liberal Fascism"

A dissenting view

As many predicted from the title, Goldberg does not content himself with rebuking those who call anyone who disagrees with them a fascist. Instead, he invents reasons of his own for calling anyone who disagrees with Jonah Goldberg a fascist. Liberal Fascism confirms anew George Orwell’s remark—cited by Goldberg without irony—that fascism has no meaning today other than “something not desirable. can make out three reasons for calling liberals the true fascists. First, Goldberg points out that liberalism and fascism have many elements in common. Both fascists and liberals favor a minimum wage, an expansive social safety net, heavy regulation of industry, and redistributive taxation, but stop short of advocating the abolition of private property. Both scorn constitutional limits on government, indulge in economic populism, and see the working classes as their natural constituencies. Both distrust bourgeois values and traditional religion. On these points and others, Goldberg observes, not only do liberalism and fascism agree, but they reject the ideology of the American conservative movement.

That liberalism and fascism happen to overlap is not surprising. One can find just as many similarities between fascism and movement conservatism: both assail communism, exaggerate security threats, rationalize wars of aggression, and uphold nationalism (what sentimentalists call patriotism) and its symbols (flags, founding myths, worship of national heroes). Nothing in logic compels the ideas of liberalism, fascism, or movement conservatism to cohere into a system. On the contrary, creative theorists can mix sundry political ideas as freely as the ingredients of a cocktail. Given the vast range of questions to which competing ideologies purport to provide answers, the real surprise would be if any two ideologies had nothing in common at all.

Goldberg nonetheless sees ideologies as discrete wholes. He makes much of his discovery, for example, that the Nazis supported organic farming and animal rights and even goes so far as to admonish us to “grapple with the fact that we’ve seen this sort of thing before.” Readers can spare themselves the energy. That Nazism and contemporary liberalism both promote healthy living is as meaningless a finding as that bloody marys and martinis may both be made with gin. Repeatedly, Goldberg fails to recognize a reductio ad absurdum. He tells us that Himmler bemoaned the Christian persecution of witches, just like Wiccan feminists do today, that Hitler once described his doctrine as “reality-based,” just like today’s progressives describe theirs, and that Mussolini was quite smart “by the standards of liberal intellectuals today.” In no case does Goldberg uncover anything more ominous than a coincidence.

He’s right, of course. Many liberals do impute nefarious designs to conservatives. With just a modicum of restraint, Goldberg could have written a very good book. “Look,” he could have said, “‘Fascism’ has no meaning today, but, in any case, not only does conservatism owe nothing to fascism, but, historically, conservatives in America generally opposed fascism while liberals and leftists often were sympathetic.” Instead, lacking even the excuse of ignorance, he chose to sling the term “fascism” around as casually as the most vulgar leftist. It does not speak well of Goldberg that, by his own admission, he wrote his first book not to enlighten but to exact revenge.

Liberal Fascism completes Goldberg’s transformation from chipper humorist into humorless ideologue. Perhaps it was hubris that made him do it. The last important book by a conservative was Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind in 1987, whose ideas had been in circulation for many years before. Goldberg may have convinced himself that by penning yet another disquisition into the “true nature of liberalism,” he could become the first movement conservative in a generation to write something lasting. In the end, he succeeded only in recycling 60 years worth of conservative movement bromides.


A review on the Efficacy and Safety of Fluoridation

Goldberg on Liberal Fascism

...the title Liberal Fascism comes from a speech delivered by H. G. Wells, one of the most important and influential progressive and socialist intellectuals of the 20th century. He wanted to re-brand liberalism as "liberal fascism" and even "enlightened Nazism." He believed these terms best described his own political views -- views that deeply informed American progressivism and New Deal liberalism.

As for the smiley face, that's a reference to comedian and social commentator George Carlin, who explained on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher that "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley."

I'm persuaded that Carlin was right -- to the extent that fascism of any kind will come to America, it will do so in the guise of something "progressive." Indeed, American progressives, particularly before Hitler arrived on the scene in the 1930s, were openly sympathetic to Italian fascism. This isn't to say they copied it (or the fascism of Soviet Russia), as many claim. But rather that the ideas that gave birth to and fueled American progressivism -- philosophical pragmatism, Bismarckian "top-down socialism," Marxism, eugenics and more -- share common intellectual sources and impulses with those that gave us both socialism and fascism.

As much as it may shock some, I'm not the first person to set the record straight. Maybe those authors didn't penetrate the public debate because they tend to write books titled Illiberal Policymaking and Culture Formation, the Anglo-American Experience, 1912-2007. If I'd followed their example, no one would be buying my book, reading it or discussing it. And, you can be sure, I wouldn't have been invited on to The Daily Show to get smacked around for 20 minutes.

Liberal Fascism: Review by Arnold Kling

Jonah Goldberg's Revisionist F-Bomb
By Arnold Kling on 23 Jan 2008

Reviewing Goldberg's book is difficult. I would argue that it is many books, written by an author with Multiple Personality Disorder. There is Goldberg the revisionist historian, Goldberg the outraged conservative child, and Goldberg the troll.

In contemporary jargon, a troll is someone who posts a taunt on a web site in an attempt to get under the skin of his opponents. His goals are to draw attention to himself and to enjoy the anger and discomfort that he arouses. The troll appears in various places in Liberal Fascism, most notably in the title and the cover art, which shows a smiling face with a Hitler mustache.

The outraged conservative child is tired of being blamed all the time while his liberal sibling gets away with everything. He writes (p. 118)

In the liberal telling...there are only two perpetrators of official misdeeds; conservatives and "America" writ will virtually never hear that the Palmer raids, Prohibition, or American eugenics were thoroughly progressive phenomena. These are sins America itself must atone for. Meanwhile, real or alleged "conservative" misdeeds--say, McCarthyism--are always the exclusive fault of conservatives...[Liberals] feel no compulsion to defend the inherent goodness of America. Conservatives, meanwhile, not only take the blame for events not of their own making...but find themselves defending liberal misdeeds in order to defend America herself.

The outraged conservative child probably helped motivate Goldberg to write the book, and the troll could serve to motivate more people to read the book. However, my view would be that the troll and the outraged conservative child detract from the message of the revisionist historian.

Where does fascism come from? Consider these possibilities.

(1) It comes from the personality defects of individual leaders, such as Hitler.

(2) It is a demon lurking within capitalism, which can emerge whenever there is a crisis that weakens liberal-progressives.

(3) It is the unintended consequence of liberal socialism (Hayek's Road to Serfdom).

(4) It is the desired end state envisioned by ideological theoreticians, including not only Benito Mussolini but progressives of the World War I era.

Too many people fall back on (1), which in my view reflects the fundamental attribution error. For example, the best-selling novel The Kite-Runner depicts a Taliban leader as the stereotypical schoolyard bully grown up. The banality of evil. No ideology or connection with Islamic theology to see here. Move along.

Instead of accepting (1), Goldberg treats fascism as an ideological phenomenon. He tries to debunk (2) while drawing attention to (4).

The most effective chapter is "Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism." Goldberg catches Wilson, Herbert Croly (the founder of The New Republic), Walter Lippmann, and other famous progressives of the World War I era with their hands in the fascist cookie jar. They preferred efficient government to democratic government, undertook severe repression of dissent (on p. 117, Goldberg writes "Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but it has been estimated that some 175,000 Americans were arrested"), and saw a need for the ordinary individual to be manipulated, educated, and constrained by an elite cadre aiming for national greatness. Above all, they saw war and military conscription as a positive force for molding citizenship and speeding the pace of progress.

Should today's Left be held accountable for the errors and excesses of the Wilsonian era? Perhaps not, but in that case John Hope Franklin should not hold white Americans accountable for the errors and excesses of our history.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Your journalistic ethics are showing

Blogger Patterico notes Steve Lopez' second look at an old story, and decides it's not a slam-dunk case after all.

Back in 2004, Steve Lopez wrote the following about the incident in which LAPD officer John Hatfield hit a car theft suspect with a flashlight:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, go ahead and investigate, but I saw what I saw.

. . . .

Although this thing looked bad, Bratton said from 3,000 miles away, "There should be no rush to judgment before the investigations are completed."

Guess what, Chief. My investigation is complete.

Any cop who'd whack a captured suspect 11 times, on live TV no less, is too dumb to keep past lunch.

Although Lopez proudly declared in 2004 he didn't need to get Hatfield's side of the story, on Sunday he did exactly that: he sat down with Hatfield himself and watched the video as Hatfield talked him through it. The result is a remarkable column titled Good cop makes bad decision.

[T]he case is more nuanced than I acknowledged at the time, and for that, I apologize to Hatfield.

Of course, there was an easy way for Lopez to have learned about these nuances at the time: he could have done what journalists are supposed to do, and try to get both sides of the story. Instead, he did what most journalists do: he made up his mind going in, and belittled the side he didn't like. Having finally looked into the other side now, four years later, Lopez learns something that surprises him. While he still thinks Hatfield's actions were excessive, it turns out that Hatfield actually isn't a bad guy...

In theory, all journalists learn to do this as part of their training. In theory. In practice, journalists have a herd mentality, and the herd follows certain narratives without a hint of professional skepticism. Stories that support this narrative are "too good to check", and get the treatment Lopez gave this story in 2004. The narrative is that cops are brutal racists. Nuance can wait.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tolerance and the Left

One of the memes that circulates in society holds that the left is so much more tolerant than the right. The right, according to this meme, is filled with haters.

What if there were a way to measure this?

Professor Arthur Brooks thinks he might have a way.

...Do the data support the claim that conservatives are haters, while liberals are tolerant of others? A handy way to answer this question is with what political analysts call "feeling thermometers," in which people are asked on a survey to rate others on a scale of 0-100. A zero is complete hatred, while 100 means adoration. In general, when presented with people or groups about which they have neutral feelings, respondents give temperatures of about 70. Forty is a cold temperature, and 20 is absolutely freezing.

In 2004, the University of Michigan's American National Election Studies (ANES) survey asked about 1,200 American adults to give their thermometer scores of various groups. People in this survey who called themselves "conservative" or "very conservative" did have a fairly low opinion of liberals -- they gave them an average thermometer score of 39. The score that liberals give conservatives: 38. Looking only at people who said they are "extremely conservative" or "extremely liberal," the right gave the left a score of 27; the left gives the right an icy 23. So much for the liberal tolerance edge.

Now, I don't know what the standard error of those numbers is. I suspect it's probably at least three or four points in either direction. If so, a difference of one point between 38 and 39 is less than the margin of error. Probably so is the four points between 23 and 27.

But we can say that the left is not noticeably more tolerant of the right than the right is of the left. Conversely, the right does not harbor enough more hate in its collective heart to show up in this measurement.

Can any significant difference be found?

Some might argue that this is simply a reflection of the current political climate, which is influenced by strong feelings about the current occupants of the White House. And sure enough, those on the extreme left give President Bush an average temperature of 15 and Vice President Cheney a 16. Sixty percent of this group gives both men the absolute lowest score: zero.

To put this into perspective, note that even Saddam Hussein (when he was still among the living) got an average score of eight from Americans. The data tell us that, for six in ten on the hard left in America today, literally nobody in the entire world can be worse than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

This doesn't sound very tolerant to me -- nor especially rational, for that matter. To be fair, though, let's roll back to a time when the far right was accused of temporary insanity: the late Clinton years, when right-wing pundits practically proclaimed the end of Western civilization each night on cable television because President Clinton had been exposed as a perjurious adulterer.

In 1998, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were hardly popular among conservatives. Still, in the 1998 ANES survey, Messrs. Clinton and Gore both received a perfectly-respectable average temperature of 45 from those who called themselves extremely conservative. While 28% of the far right gave Clinton a temperature of zero, Gore got a zero from just 10%. The bottom line is that there is simply no comparison between the current hatred the extreme left has for Messrs. Bush and Cheney, and the hostility the extreme right had for Messrs. Clinton and Gore in the late 1990s.

Let's see. Extreme left gives Bush a score of 15% and Cheney 16%. Extreme right gives Clinton and Gore a score of 45%. Bush and Cheney get a 0% score from 60% of those on the left; Clinton got that score from 28% of those on the far right and Gore from only 10%.

Put another way, the far left is less than half as tolerant of the most recent opposition president as those on the right have been.

Does this refute the stereotype that right-wingers are "haters" while left-wingers are not? Liberals will say that the comparison is unfair, because Mr. Bush is so much worse than Mr. Clinton ever was. Yes, Mr. Clinton may have been imperfect, but Mr. Bush -- whom people on the far left routinely compare to Hitler -- is evil. This of course destroys the liberal stereotype even more eloquently than the data. The very essence of intolerance is to dehumanize the people with whom you disagree by asserting that they are not just wrong, but wicked.

In the end, we have to face the fact that political intolerance in America -- ugly and unfortunate on either side of the political aisle -- is to be found more on the left than it is on the right. This may not square with the moral vanity of progressive political stereotypes, but it's true.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The problem with "utilitarian" arguments

In my open letter to an interrogator, I point out a serious problem with Terry Karney's "utilitarian" argument against torture: It's only as good as his data. Another blogger makes a similar point:

Consequentialist arguments are very efficient because people are generally willing to change their mind easily on those matters... but what make them successful also makes them weak : they can be replaced with other consequentialist arguments. Moral arguments are much tougher to make because people are more reluctant to accept a new moral philosophy, but they are also much more stable, and will likely be successfully passed onto children. Every consequentialist argument however is a step away from freedom as an end instead of freedom as a means. On the long term, the fate of the new belief is unknown... it may be replaced with an economic fallacy. It's negative effect on morality will always be damaging though.

Karney wants to do away with all torture. He offers the "utilitarian" case: "torture doesn't work". But every example where torture does work undermines this case. In order to preserve it, he has to refute each of these examples. In most cases, he doesn't have the data to refute them, and relies instead on smears against those who report the examples. His repeated use of such ad hominem attacks only weakens his case. Thus, in the long run, his use of a "utilitarian" argument against torture undermines the case he is trying to make.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Signs of fascism, and a response

When "american" left behind a comment comparing America with fascist nations and dictatorships, Bill Whittle posted a response.

I'm saving this link for reference.

More of the Gravy than the Ghraib

Last week, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was cleared of all criminal charges regarding the Abu Ghraib scandal. He will suffer administrative penalties only.

Somewhere out there, as we speak, there's a young liberal student who's becoming very angry.

They're twitching. They're starting to foam at the mouth. They're reflexively wanting to burn an American flag and to make paper mache figurines of Bush and Cheney wearing Nazi regalia.

The entire Abu Ghraib kerfuffle was nothing more than a garden-variety case of stupid soldiers doing stupid things, but within the context of a deranged and virulent media that was hell bent on destroying the Bush presidency, and electing a Democrat in his stead, regardless of the costs.


A thought for the "Peace Process"

For once, just once, why not have the Palestinians make the first gestures? Let them make some good will gesture, let them make the first concession. That would be a refreshing change from the standard pattern of Israel taking the first (and last) steps.

If the Palestinians are so eager for peace, let them take the initiative just this once.

What he said.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why We Are Still Arguing About Darwin?

Contrast this on-going battle over Darwin with the fate of the other great scientific revolutions. The same Christian fundamentalists who argue that public school should teach creationism have no quarrel with the Copernican revolution. No one argues that public schools should be forced to teach the Ptolemaic system because it permits Joshua to make the sun stand still. Yet polls in the USA show that a large segment of American society continues to reject Darwin's scientific revolution.

The stumbling block to an acceptance of Darwin, I would like to submit, has little to do with Christian fundamentalism, but a whole lot to do with our intense visceral revulsion at monkeys and apes. This revulsion, while certainly not universal, is widely shared, and it is a psychological phenomenon that is completely independent of our ideas about the literal truth of the Bible.

Quite possibly. Invariably, one of the first "problems" anyone raises with respect to the notion of evolution is some variant on the theme of "I don't believe my great-to-the-however-many-times ancestor is a monkey!" Very few people open with some esoteric disquisition on the nature of the Krebs cycle or the blood clotting cascade. Indeed, in his "Thirty Years War", Rabbi Lapin blames evolution for the lack of respect today's secularized kids show their parents. The way he sees it, the difference is due to one critical point. The Bible teaches your parents are one generation closer to God. Evolution teaches your parents are one generation closer to monkeys. Which do you respect.

Yes, I think Lee Harris has a point.

No investigation of CIA tapes

WASHINGTON - A federal judge refused on Wednesday to delve into the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, saying there was no evidence the Bush administration violated a court order and the Justice Department deserved time to conduct its own investigation.

Kennedy, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President Clinton, said he had been assured that the Justice Department would report back if it found evidence that a court order had been violated.

"There is no reason to disregard the Department of Justice's assurances," Kennedy said.

But can Karl Rove account for his whereabouts over the past few days?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Forests -- Coming or going?

Data on tropical forest cover is so poor that we do not know if the forests are declining, a study has found.

Alan Grainger from the UK's University of Leeds examined UN analyses going back almost 30 years, and found that "evidence for a decline is unclear".

Dr Grainger is not so sure. "People have been assuming that forest cover is shrinking," he told BBC News, "and certainly deforestation has been taking place on a large scale."

But, he says, there is also evidence that in some countries, forests are expanding spontaneously.

"Our analysis does not prove that tropical forest decline is not happening, merely that it is is difficult to demonstrate it convincingly using available tropical forest area data," he writes in PNAS.

Basically, we don't know if there's a problem to fix.


Jerome J. Schmitt at American Thinker has a piece on two different mathematical models which are given very different levels of authority by the political left.

One is the model of the Earth's climate. I've already linked to a piece telling of how 22 different climate models were tested for their ability to predict what has already happened. None of them predicted climate changes we know happened.

The atmosphere is a very complex system, and it turns out to be very hard to predict the behavior of systems that are vastly simpler:

Closed systems are also much easier to model as compared to systems open to the atmosphere (that should tell us something already). Computer models are used to inform the engineering team as the design the shape, temperature ramp, flow rates, etc, etc, (i.e. the thermodynamics) of the new reactor.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that 1) the chemical reactions are highly studied, 2) there exists extensive experience with similar reactors, much of it recorded in the open literature, 3) the input gases and materials are of high and known purity, and 4) the process is controlled with incredible precision, the predictions of the models are often wrong, requiring that the reactor be adjusted empirically to produce the desired product with quality and reliability.

The fact that these artificial "climates" are closed systems far simpler than the global climate, have the advantage of the experimental method, and are subject to precise controls, and yet are frequently wrong, should lend some humility to those who make grand predictions about the future of the earth's atmosphere.

On the other hand:

Actuaries are mathematical professionals who build statistical models of human populations in order to plan for life-insurance, health-insurance and pension benefits. The accuracy of their models can have far reaching consequences. Errors might cost their private sector employers' millions and even billions of dollars. Fortunately, the actuarial profession's record in accurate prediction is quite good, particularly since their relatively simple statistical models are informed with reliable data collected from census figures as well as hospital and mortuary records. While predicting one individual's healthcare needs and time-of-death is impossible, when averaged across millions of people, such statistics can be quite reliable.

And I'll amplify on that point. Some friends of mine went on a cruise, and had a chance to talk with the food service people about the economics of menu planning. It turns out the person who plans the menus is able to estimate, to within a few percent, how many of each entree will be needed to meet demand. Because of what amounts to political correctness, he doesn't have access to the passengers' ethnicity data -- all he gets is age and sex. Yet that's enough data to predict how many diners will want rack of lamb, how many will want fish, how many will want chicken, and so on.

And this is another area where getting it wrong costs money.

Today, a consensus of actuaries agrees that the Social Security system is in need of major overhaul otherwise it will experience debilitating financial shortfalls in a few decades as more and more "baby-boomers" retire with full benefits. In the face of this consensus however, liberals demur and minimize the importance of this crisis, undercutting President Bush's attempts to draw attention the problem as his prelude to proposing reforms.

The difference is, Democrats have been using Social Security as a way to bribe their voters. People who deal with energy are big corporations, especially the hated Exxon-Mobil, and make great targets.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

This looks interesting...

David Thompson has kindly alerted me to a great new series at The Guardian: Blogging the Qur'an! "Each week, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar will blog a different verse or theme of the Qur'an. Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting will help frame the debate." Georgina Henry explains the rationale behind the series here -- but comments are not allowed on her piece. Now, why is that?

Of course, I have been Blogging the Qur'an myself since May 27, 2007, and am now about a third of the way through the book, and I welcome this new Guardian endeavor with great excitement. Since I have a bit of a head start on Mr. Sardar (although I am not sure from his initial post whether he intends to go through the book passage by passage, as I have been doing) I think some readers might find my first 33 Blogging the Qur'an posts, as well as the ones to come, useful to help them frame polite questions for Mr. Sardar -- questions which might make his enterprise, as well as mine, much, much more interesting.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Sardar does not plan to take questions from all and sundry in the comments field, as I have done here and at Hot Air in my own Blogging the Qur'an series, but it may be that a question from a reader who has read both his series and mine might make it over the transom. In the spirit of furthering a full understanding of this highly influential book, I certainly hope so.

I also will be keeping up with Mr. Sardar's efforts, and commenting on them here where appropriate. Thanks to the Guardian for beginning this terrific new endeavor!

Might be worth a look-see.

If there's no love, fear will do

Jihad Watch reports on an interview with a Pakistani TV host.

An Indian reporter asks a Pakistani TV host, "As a believer, why are you afraid of shari'ah law?" His answer is illuminating in many ways. For one thing, it indicates how much violent intimidation underlies popular support for Sharia.

"If Pakistan is an Islamic country, what is your objection to imposing shari'ah as is being demanded by the mullahs? As a believer, why are you afraid of shari'ah law?" I asked a former editor of an Urdu daily and currently the host of a TV programme.

His answer: "As an Indian, you obviously would like to see Pakistan go into the Stone Age".

I persisted: "Isn't the ideal concept of state in Islam the city state established by the Prophet in which Islamic law was the basic law?"

He replied: "That would mean going back into the stone age".

I pushed a little further and asked: "Are you willing to say this outside the confines of your office, and stand up in public for what you believe".

He looked horrified and said: "Do you think I am mad? I won't be alive an hour after I say this in public".

Two major points emerge.

First, the "Arab Street" accepts Jihadism because it's just not safe to resist it.  If you speak truth to this power, you will not live very long. Machiaveli said it's better to be feared than loved. Maybe so, and maybe not.  But it seems those who would impose sharia law seem perfectly happy to use fear if they can't have love.

Second, the Jihadist fundamentalists want nothing less than return to the stone age.  Everyone, except a few True Believers, knows it.

Taxes, FAIR and otherwise

Arnold Kling looks at the Fair Tax proposal, and counters with one of his own.

His proposal:

1. Abolish the income tax for households with incomes under $100,000. Tax 10 percent of income between $100,000 and $150,000 and 35 percent of income over $150,000. Index these brackets for growth in nominal wages, but otherwise put in mechanisms that freeze the income tax.

2. Abolish the payroll tax.

3. Institute a national sales tax of about half of the FairTax plan. In the future, implement all tax cuts and tax increases through the sales tax, not the income tax.

Roughly speaking, the income tax provides 1/2 of Federal revenues, and the payroll tax accounts for 1/3 of Federal revenues. If we cut income tax revenues by 1/3 and abolish the payroll tax, we would lose in total 1/2 of Federal revenues. Thus, the national sales tax would have to be about half of what it would under the FairTax plan. If Gale's estimate is correct, then the national sales tax would have to be between 20 and 25 percent.

The idea of freezing the income tax while leaving the sales tax up for grabs politically is to try to increase the public's sensitivity to the cost of Federal programs. Right now, politicians can treat high-earners as an ATM machine, always there to dispense cash for "targeted tax cuts" or foolish spending programs.

Instead, the idea would be to fix the amount of "soak-the-rich" taxation permanently, with all of the variation at the margin coming in the sales tax. Thus, if a politician wants to raise spending or institute some form of "targeted" tax cut, the sales tax rate has to rise, and everybody has to feel it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A blogger gets it wrong

Blogger Dafydd at Big Lizards got a story wrong. He had reported on an insane position taken by the RIAA – they would be going after people who copied music from CDs they had purchased onto their Ipods. The report quoted, among other things...

[I]n an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

RIAA’s hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: “If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you’re stealing. You’re breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages.”

Well, it turns out, upon reading through the complaint, the RIAA was not making that case. Instead, they were objecting to the copying of files to a folder that is then shared over a peer-to-peer network (e.g., Kazaa). Your music ripped to an Ipod, or stored on your computer for playback, is safe.

How did Big Lizard make such a Big Mistake?

Well, it made the Big Mistake of relying on the Washington Post to get its facts right.

It counted on the fact-checkers and editors to catch mistakes like this.

It also naively assumed a reporter might have actually, like, you know, read the complaint.

(Hat tip: Patterico)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wal-Mart taking over?

I've seen reviews of how well Wal-Mart handled the logistical problems of getting equipment and supplies into disaster areas. They beat the government response hands down. Apparently now Wal-Mart is opening clinics to deal with minor, routine illnesses. ReadiClinic is reviewed, and passes muster.

This may be the right approach to national health care.

It's a good thing they have editors and fact checkers!

Gateway Pundit looks at six stories over the past year. All six are either false or deliberate hoaxes, and retractions are apparently not forthcoming. These stories are:

  1. Time Magazine reports on 20 headless bodies found in the Diyala province near a police station.
  2. Western media reported on the death of "11 close family members of Jordanian-based Baathist reporter Dia al-Kawwaz."
  3. The death of 12 - 25 construction workers in a bombing attack ... but they turn out to be Taliban fighters.
  4. Media, including the Los Angeles Times, reports that 13 people were slaughtered by Al-Qaeda in their sleep and their homes were torched in the village of Dwelah, Iraq... including a young child. Didn't happen.
  5. A refinery in Baghdad blows up. Reuters and AP call it a rocket attack. It was an industrial accident.
  6. CNN reports on a mass grave with 12 mutilated bodies found north of Baghdad. Wrong again.

In roughly six and a half weeks the mainstream media reported 6 bogus stories from Iraq and Afghanistan.

There certainly could be more.

They all reflected poorly on the US and US military.

Isn't it past time that the media be held accountable for their horrible record?

DirectorBlue thinks the mainstream media should be called "The Real Faux News".

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fox Most Fair and Balanced

Links to a press release by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Who’s Fair and Balanced?: Fox News Channel’s coverage was more balanced toward both parties than the broadcast networks were. On FOX, evaluations of all Democratic candidates combined were split almost evenly – 51% positive vs. 49% negative, as were all evaluations of GOP candidates – 49% positive vs. 51% negative, producing a perfectly balanced 50-50 split for all candidates of both parties.

On the three broadcast networks, opinion on Democratic candidates split 47% positive vs. 53% negative, while evaluations of Republicans were more negative – 40% positive vs. 60% negative. For both parties combined, network evaluations were almost 3 to 2 negative in tone, i.e. 41% positive vs. 59% negative.

"911 Truth" and 911 Doubts

The Flat Earth Society 911 "Truth" movement continues to push its case. R.J. Rummel has grave doubts about their case. When chastized about his refusal to view the 911 "Truth" movement's doubtlessly excellently-made videotape, he responds:

That 9/11 was an inside job is beyond ridiculous. I must use words I seldom apply to assertions with which I disagree, like stupid, high level ignorance, or a psychotic disposition to accept what is impossible because of a deep seated bias. And no, I don't read or view that conspiracy material, any more than I read stuff about the earth being flat, that Johnson had Kennedy assassinated, or that a secret organization runs the world, or any other crazy beliefs or conspiracy theories.

And no, I don't need to give my arguments. To ask for them is also preposterous. And, of course, I am closed minded about this. And so I am also about the fact that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in1941, and that it was not a " monumental fraud perpetrated against the United States and the world on that day."

There are always anomalies in any explanation of human behavior, as there are always faces that can be found in clouds, if looked at long and hard enough.

I also refer people to Isaac Asimov's essay, "My Built-in Doubter", where he discusses what he doubts and why he doubts it. It's a variation on the theme that "Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Proof".

About races

The line among skeptics about differences in IQ (and other traits) between races is that there is no significant difference between the races – all observed differences are superficial.

This article, originally in the New York Times, begs to differ.

Here is a journal article, a different one than is referenced above, saying much the same thing.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Iraqi death toll shrinks

Three weeks before the 2006 midterm elections gave Democrats control of Congress, a shocking study reported on the number of Iraqis who had died in the ongoing war. It bolstered criticism of President Bush and heightened the waves of dread -- here and around the world -- about the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Published by The Lancet, a venerable British medical journal, the study used previously accepted methods for calculating death rates to estimate the number of "excess" Iraqi deaths after the 2003 invasion at 426,369 to 793,663; the study said the most likely figure was near the middle of that range: 654,965.

The number has since become a talking point for left-wing commentators, and many have looked closely at the methodology to see why it's an order of magnitude or more greater than other estimates.

How to explain the enormous discrepancy between The Lancet's estimation of Iraqi war deaths and those from studies that used other methodologies? For starters, the authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll. Skeptical commentators have highlighted questionable assumptions, implausible data, and ideological leanings among the authors, Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, and Les Roberts.

Some critics go so far as to suggest that the field research on which the study is based may have been performed improperly -- or not at all. The key person involved in collecting the data -- Lafta, the researcher who assembled the survey teams, deployed them throughout Iraq, and assembled the results -- has refused to answer questions about his methods.

Over the past several months, National Journal has examined the 2006 Lancet article, and another [PDF] that some of the same authors published in 2004; probed the problems of estimating wartime mortality rates; and interviewed the authors and their critics. NJ has identified potential problems with the research that fall under three broad headings: 1) possible flaws in the design and execution of the study; 2) a lack of transparency in the data, which has raised suspicions of fraud; and 3) political preferences held by the authors and the funders, which include George Soros's Open Society Institute.

Officials at Iraq Body Count strongly opposed the Iraq war yet issued a detailed critique of the Lancet II study. Researchers wading into a field that is this fraught with danger have a responsibility not to be reckless with statistics, the group said. The numbers claimed by the Lancet study would, under the normal ratios of warfare, result in more than a million Iraqis wounded seriously enough to require medical treatment, according to this critique. Yet official sources in Iraq have not reported any such phenomenon. An Iraq Body Count analysis showed that the Lancet II numbers would have meant that 1,000 Iraqis were dying every day during the first half of 2006, "with less than a tenth of them being noticed by any public surveillance mechanisms." The February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque is widely credited with plunging Iraq into civil war, yet the Lancet II report posits the equivalent of five to 10 bombings of this magnitude in Iraq every day for three years.

"In the light of such extreme and improbable implications," the Iraq Body Count report stated, "a rational alternative conclusion to be considered is that the authors have drawn conclusions from unrepresentative data."

(Hat tip: Little Green Footballs)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Not items of clothing, but items of knowledge – items which everyone knows, but of which none dare speak openly.

Why does common knowledge remain unacknowledged within an organization? SFGate has tapped into an unreported vein of lore about the San Francisco zoo.

[The enclosure was known not tiger-proof, for quite a while.]

Dan Oestreich describes the phenomenon of "undiscussable" problems within organizations. Their existence is known with the same certainty as anything else. What distinguishes these problems from others is that they deal with subjects that are impossible to schedule on an agenda. By tacit agreement their discussion is "verboten".


Organizations and even whole societies are full of undiscussable subjects. They even go out of their way to create these "open secrets". When Mark Steyn is threatened by the Canadian Human Rights establishment for expressing his views on radical Islam it eventually has the result of creating another verboten subject.

Not just the Canadian Human Rights people, but a whole spectrum of organizations throughout the world, create taboos which eventually stifle the internal cognitive processes within them. And those taboos are so entrenched it often requires a crisis -- an impending bankruptcy, a corporate takeover, or a revolution -- to overturn them. Management consultants are paid large amounts of money to initiate "communications processes" through which the unacknowledged problems of a failing organization can once again re-enter the realm of "actionable knowledge".

The San Francisco zoo story provides an example of something all too common within organizations: the emergence of the open secret. If Carey Baldwin is to be believed, the keepers of the SF Zoo have known for nearly sixty years that the tigers kept within their enclosures only out of their own free will. The wall and moat were shams to preserve the illusion that the big cats were enclosed. In reality, the public's safety was dependent on the behavior of the "good kitties". Given their only recently marred record, the tigers have really exceeded our low expectations of their behavior.

In contrast, human institutions can be less intelligent than we give them credit for. They can ignore critical information simply because the word is out that the subject is not to be discussed. They can take data and bury it; discover knowledge and extinguish it. Because they have internal interests which take priority over their official ones. Even the death of a 17 year old zoo visitor won't change things. The only thing anyone can be sure of is that all parties concerned will hire lawyers who, by track record, are far more dangerous than tigers.

And I suspect "unmentionables" are almost always in the realm where ignorance can be dangerous, if not fatal.

Back to the Moon!

NASA's "Orion" program, the successor to "Apollo", plans to put men on the moon for extended periods – as much as half a year at a time.

The Orion space ship could launch in the year 2020, and later plans include voyages to Mars.