Sunday, January 31, 2010

9/11 Revisited

Respectful Insolence pulls from the archives a report on the 9/11 conspiracy theories.

No doubt you've heard of the 9/11 "skeptics" who don't believe that the impact of two large jetliners was enough to bring down the Twin Towers. These and conspiracy theorists like them have been responsible for the movie Loose Change (the producers of which, contrary to their claims that they are doing this "for the victims," have some really vile and despicable things about those who died) and the 9/11 "Truth" movement. These guys love to spin tales about how somehow the U.S. government (sometimes, depending on who's telling the tale, with the help of the Mossad) was actually responsible for the attacks, how supposedly the planes alone were not enough to bring the buildings down, and how there must have been bombs or other devices already in the towers. All of this was done, if you believe the tinfoil hat brigade, for nefarious purposes like giving the government a pretext to invade Iraq, to enrich Haliburton, or a variety of other reasons connected to reality only in the most tenuous way, if even that. One of the more prevalent among the many competing claims (some of which are mutually exclusive) is that it wasn't really commercial jetliners that struck the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon at all, but rather missiles or refueling military tankers. Never mind the thousands of eyewitnesses and the copious photographic, documentary, and physical evidence that do in fact support the conventional idea that it was suicidally murderous Islamic terrorists who hijacked these jetliners and piloted them into these buildings. It must have been the government or the Jews who did it. Popular Mechanics and the most recent episode of Skeptic Magazine have deconstructed the conspiracy theories of the 9/11 "Truth" movement quite well, as has the blog Screw Loose Change and the website Debunking 911, including its claims that the fires in the building couldn't have weakened the steel enough to cause the buildings to fall and that there must have been explosive charges that caused a "controlled implosion."

A report at Skeptic's website can be found here.

Did trials by ordeal work?

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy links to a Boston Globe article suggesting trials by ordeal might have actually worked.

For the better part of a millennium, Europe’s legal systems decided difficult criminal cases in a most peculiar way. When judges were uncertain about an accused criminal’s guilt, they ordered a cauldron of water to be boiled, a ring to be thrown in, and the defendant to plunge in his naked hand and pluck the object out. The defendant’s hand was wrapped in bandages and revisited three days later. If it survived the bubbling cauldron unharmed, the defendant was declared innocent. If it didn’t, he was convicted.
....
First, consider the reasoning of the defendants. Guilty believers expected God to reveal their guilt by harming them in the ordeal. They anticipated being boiled and convicted. Innocent believers, meanwhile, expected God to protect them in the ordeal. They anticipated escaping unscathed, and being exonerated.

The only defendants who would have been willing to go through with the ordeal were therefore the innocent ones. Guilty defendants would have preferred to avoid the ordeal - by confessing their crimes, settling with their accusers, or fleeing the realm.

The next thing to understand is that clerics administrated ordeals and adjudged their outcomes - and did so under elaborate sets of rules that gave them wide latitude to manipulate the process. Priests knew that only innocent defendants would be willing to plunge their hands in boiling water. So priests could simply rig trials to exonerate defendants who were willing to go through with the ordeal. The rituals around the ordeals gave them plenty of cover to ensure the water wasn’t boiling, or the iron wasn’t burning, and so on. If rigging failed, a priest could interpret the ordeal’s outcome to exculpate the defendant nonetheless (“His arm is healing well!”).

Laws Banning Cell Phone Use While Driving Don’t Lower Accident Rates

In recent blog post at The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr reports on a study:Laws Banning Cell Phone Use While Driving Don’t Lower Accident Rates

Laws banning cellphone use while driving apparently haven’t reduced crashes, according to a study released on Friday that compared the number of total crashes before the ban with the number after. The study found virtually no difference in the numbers, a finding that had the researchers scratching their heads.

Orin's comment:

Any guesses as to the likelihood that jurisdictions will repeal their bans in light of the evidence that they don’t work?

Horizontal and vertical: The evolution of evolution - life - 26 January 2010 - New Scientist

A look at how evolution itself may have evolved. Horizontal and vertical: The evolution of evolution - life - 26 January 2010 - New Scientist

JUST suppose that Darwin's ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth's history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin's explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer - in which organisms acquire genetic material "horizontally" from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed - billions of years, in fact - the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn't Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say.
....
In particular, he argues, nothing in the modern synthesis explains the most fundamental steps in early life: how evolution could have produced the genetic code and the basic genetic machinery used by all organisms, especially the enzymes and structures involved in translating genetic information into proteins. Most biologists, following Francis Crick, simply supposed that these were uninformative "accidents of history". That was a big mistake, says Woese, who has made his academic reputation proving the point.
....
This is all very different from evolution as described by Darwin. Evolution will always be about change as a result of some organisms being more successful at surviving than others. In the Darwinian model, evolutionary change occurs because individuals with genes associated with successful traits are more likely to pass these on to the next generation. In horizontal gene transfer, by contrast, change is not a function of the individual or of changes from generation to generation, but of all the microbes able to share genetic material. Evolution takes place within a complex, dynamic system of many interacting parts, say Woese and Goldenfeld, and understanding it demands a detailed exploration of the self-organising potential of such a system. On the basis of their studies, they argue that horizontal gene transfer had to be a dominant factor in the original form of evolution.

Tracking your Browser Without Cookies

Bruce Schneier brings this to our attention at his blog.

My results:
"Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 430,332 tested so far. Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 18.72 bits of identifying information."

Tracking your Browser Without Cookies

How unique is your browser? Can you be tracked simply by its characteristics? The EFF is trying to find out. Their site Panopticlick will measure the characteristics of your browser setup and tell you how unique it is.

I just ran the test on myself, and my browser is unique amongst the 120,000 browsers tested so far. It's my browser plugin details; no one else has the exact configuration I do. My list of system fonts is almost unique; only one other person has the exact configuration I do. (This seems odd to me, I have a week old Sony laptop running Windows 7, and I haven't done anything with the fonts.)

EFF has some suggestions for self-defense, none of them very satisfactory. And here's a news story.

EDITED TO ADD (1/29): There's a lot in the comments leading me to question the accuracy of this test. I'll post more when I know more.

Questions About Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

From This Ain't Hell blog, Unanswered Questions About Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Lets go over some of the questions that nobody in the Obama administration or Congress has addressed in regards to repealing DADT:
Will there be seperate barracks, berthing, and living quarters for homosexuals?
...Mandating that homosexuals have their own living quarters (like some colleges and universities do) will require new construction of barracks and a complete rearrangement and reconfiguring of hundreds of naval vessels. On the other hand, allowing homosexuals to live with heterosexuals, will cause a whole different set of headaches for military commanders.
2. Will homosexuals be allowed to serve in combat arms units?
Women are forbidden by Congress to serve in combat arms units (infantry, arty, tanks, etc.). Some of the same issues surrounding women serving in combat units are present in the debate over gays serving openly in these same units.
3. Will people discharged under DADT be allowed to reenlist/recommission in the military if the policy is repealed?
I don’t know how many people who were discharged under DADT would want to reenter the military, but there are even more questions that need to be answered if they are allowed to reenter. Will they retain their same rank/billet regardless how long they have been out? Will they get retroactive promotions?
4. If homosexuals are allowed to serve openly in the military, will the military recognize and award benefits to gay marriages or civil unions?
5. Will each service be allowed to craft its own policies regarding homosexuals?
6. How much money is repealing DADT going to cost?
Everytime the military changes a policy, it costs money.

People may differ over how much of a problem each of these may be, or how concerned the military should be about each item. For example, many will see no problem with recognizing civil unions. I think, all else being equal, why not? I suspect the military takes into account matters like blood relation between brothers and cousins, simply because the brothers and cousins are almost certain to.

(Of course, the comments are open for corrections.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Alito's "You Lie" Moment

Randy E. Barnett, writing at the Wall Street Journal, takes the President to task: Obama Owes the High Court an Apology

In his State of the Union address, the president of the United States called out the Supreme Court by name for sharp condemnation and egged on his congressional supporters to jeer its recent decision.
....
Even before he finished, hundreds of Democratic senators, congressmen and cabinet officials surrounding the six seated justices stood, applauded and cheered.

Suppose for a moment that you were a justice seated there as the president of the United States singled you out for criticism and the room stood and cheered. Could they take it? Yes, of course. Should they have been put in this position? Absolutely not.
....
Judge not the words themselves, but their effect on the audience. The president fully expected that his hundreds of supporters in the legislative branch would stand and cheer, while the justices remained seated and silent, unable to respond even afterward. Moreover, the president's speech was only released about 30 minutes before the event, after the justices were already present. In short, the head of the executive branch ambushed six members of the judiciary, and called upon the legislative branch to deride them publicly. If you missed it, check the YouTube video. No one could reasonably believe in their heart that this was respectful behavior.

Then there is the substance of the remark itself. It was factually wrong. The Court's ruling in Citizens United concerned the right of labor unions and domestic corporations, including nonprofits, to express their views about candidates in media such as books, films and TV within 60 days of an election. In short, it concerned freedom of speech; in particular, an independent film critical of Hillary Clinton funded by a nonprofit corporation.

While the Court reversed a 1990 decision allowing such a ban, it left standing current restrictions on foreign nationals and "entities." Also untouched was a 100-year-old ban on domestic corporate contributions to political campaigns to which the president was presumably referring erroneously.

That is a whole lot to get wrong in 72 sanctimonious words. Clearly, this statement had not been vetted by the president's legal counsel. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, for example, would never have signed off on such a claim. Never.
....
If the president, himself a Harvard Law School graduate, is going to criticize a judicial opinion, it is incumbent upon him to be legally accurate and responsible in his commentary. If that is too much to expect of a politician giving a nationally televised speech to the general public, then this again illustrates the inappropriateness of making this remark in this venue.

For those who strongly object to the ruling in Citizens United and still do not see the impropriety of criticizing the Court this way, consider Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during the president's address to a joint session of Congress in September. No one denied the right of a congressman to criticize the accuracy of the president's remarks. The objection was to the rudeness and disrespect shown the president, for which Mr. Wilson promptly apologized. So too should the president.

Obama vs the Supreme Court

Betsy Newmark writes about Obama's SOTU dig at the Supreme Court, saying: You'd think a former professor of Constitutional law would know better

During the speech, the President made a direct dig at the Supreme Court for their decision in Citizens United and alleges that they allowed foreign corporations to spend unlimited money in our elections. Bradley Smith, the former head of the FEC sets the record straight.
...The president's statement is false.

The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making "a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election" under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any "expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication... ."

This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demogoguery of the worst kind.


Smith is right. Either he's ignorant, or he's deliberately lying. Thinking of how State of the Union addresses get scrubbed by all sorts of advisers in the White House, it's hard to believe that everyone there ignored that line. I think it must have been a deliberate obfuscation of the law and the ruling. No wonder Samuel Alito in the audience was shaking his head that this wasn't true.

As I think about that line, I realized that, while I'd read quite a bit of commentary on the Court's decision, I hadn't seen anywhere that point about foreign corporations. No wonder, because it's not part of the decision so no one would have been talking about it. It had to be something that either Obama or some equally ignorant adviser in the White House thought of. It was too good for them to check and they figured that it would be a good demagogic line to insert into the speech.

It sounds like Barack Obama's been working above his pay grade for a year now.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quantum Physics

Chad Orzel, author of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, gives an introduction to Seven principles of Quantum Physics.

Here's a list of essential elements of quantum physics that everyone ought to know, at least in broad outlines:
Particles are waves, and vice versa.
Quantum physics tells us that every object in the universe has both particle-like and wave-like properties....
Quantum states are discrete.
The "quantum" in quantum physics refers to the fact that everything in quantum physics comes in discrete amounts. A beam of light can only contain integer numbers of photons-- 1, 2, 3, 137, but never 1.5 or 22.7. An electron in an atom can only have certain discrete energy values-- -13.6 electron volts, or -3.4 electron volts in hydrogen, but never -7.5 electron volts.
Probability is all we ever know.
When physicists use quantum mechanics to predict the results of an experiment, the only thing they can predict is the probability of detecting each of the possible outcomes. Given an experiment in which an electron will end up in one of two places, we can say that there is a 17% probability of finding it at point A and an 83% probability of finding it at point B, but we can never say for sure that a single given electron will definitely end up at A or definitely end up at B.
Measurement determines reality.
Until the moment that the exact state of a quantum particle is measured, that state is indeterminate, and in fact can be thought of as spread out over all the possible outcomes. After a measurement is made, the state of the particle is absolutely determined, and all subsequent measurements on that particle will return produce exactly the same outcome.
Quantum correlations are non-local.
One of the strangest and most important consequences of quantum mechanics is the idea of "entanglement." When two quantum particles interact in the right way, their states will depend on one another, no matter how far apart they are.
Everything not forbidden is mandatory.
A quantum particle moving from point A to point B will take absolutely every possible path from A to B, at the same time. This includes paths that involve highly improbable events like electron-positron pairs appearing out of nowhere, and disappearing again. The full theory of quantum electro-dynamics (QED) involves contributions from every possible process, even the ridiculously unlikely ones.
Quantum physics is not magic.
Yeah, this was on the other list as well, but it's so important that it needs repeating. As strange as quantum physics is-- and don't get me wrong, it's plenty weird-- it does not suspend all the rules of common sense. The bedrock principles of physics are still intact: energy is still conserved, entropy still increases, nothing can move faster than the speed of light. You cannot exploit quantum effects to build a perpetual motion machine, or to create telepathy or clairvoyance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marriage Talking Points

Marriage Talking Points - National Organization for Marriage
I. THE MOST EFFECTIVE SINGLE SENTENCE:

Extensive and repeated polling agrees that the single most effective message is:

"Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,
they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."


This allows people to express support for tolerance while opposing gay marriage. Some modify it to “People have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”

Language to avoid at all costs: "Ban same-sex marriage." Our base loves this wording. So do supporters of SSM. They know it causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don’t use it. Say we’re against “redefining marriage” or in favor or “marriage as the union of husband and wife” NEVER “banning same-sex marriage.”

Little Green Responses

Charles Johnson has replied to Dennis' open letter.

<http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/35656_A_Reply_to_Dennis_Pragers_Open_Letter>

What color were dinosaur feathers?

Science, Skeptics, and "Deniers"

This piece appeared in Pajamas Media, and pretty much sums up my thoughts on Climate Change.

Bad ideas get trashed in good science. If you doubt it, just read James Watson on the heated fight with Linus Pauling over the structure of DNA. Craig Venter outraged the competition by discovering the human genome three years before they expected to get there. Or see what Isaac Newton said about Leibniz. It gets nasty.

That's for healthy science, which is not a list of orthodox beliefs, but more like an endless, running debating club. You could tell that global warming was in trouble the moment that James Hansen, NASA's chief climate astrologer and enforcer of The Faith, said that "climate deniers" should be put in jail.

Good science is full of "deniers," who are also called "skeptics." I've never met a scientist who wasn't one. Albert Einstein was a lifelong skeptic about quantum mechanics. Nobody wanted to throw him in jail. Einstein was (and still is) admired for the brilliance of his skepticism. When somebody wants to jail a skeptic you know their favorite orthodoxy is tottering and about to slip down some rat hole. James Hansen was seeing the end of the global warming fraud, and he was afraid.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons banned in Dungeons Prisons

From the Volokh Conspiracy

The prison’s rationale for the ban is that playing D&D might stimulate “gang activity” by inmates. But the government conceded that there is no evidence that Dungeons and Dragons actually had stimulated gang activity in the past, either in this prison or elsewhere. The only evidence for the supposedly harmful effects of Dungeons and Dragons were a few cases from other states where playing the game supposedly led inmates to indulge in “escapism” and become divorced from reality, one case where two non-inmates committed a crime in which they “acted out” a D&D story-line, and one where a longtime D&D player (not an inmate) committed suicide. Obviously, almost any hobby or reading material might lead people to become divorced from reality, or in rare cases commit suicide. And disturbed individuals could potentially “act out” a crime based on a scenario in almost any film or literary work. Should prisons ban The Count of Monte Cristo on the grounds that it might encourage escape attempts? Moreover, the “escapism” rationale conflicts with the gang argument. People who become engrossed in escapism and retreat from society are presumably less likely to become active gang members.

It may be legal and proper, but I think some of the judges should have cheated more on their intelligence rolls.

You Play With Fire, You Get Burned By Fire

You Play With Fire, You Get Burned By Fire

via Wizbang by Shawn Mallow on 1/21/10

Or in this case, roasted.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN's international America-basher, anti-Israel, Muslim-terrorist sympathizer, gets absolutely hammered with her own words by Marc Thiessen, former speechwriter for George W. Bush.

During the exchange, Thiessen quotes Amanpour's reporting on the Khmer Rouge prison S-21, in which she makes the accusation that waterboarding techniques employed in Pol Pot's genocidal torture machine equal the same waterboarding techniques applied by the CIA to captured terrorists.

She is stunned and indignant at the way Thiessen bluntly strips her of all credibility concerning this issue, and, almost speechless, feebly turns several times to her leftist guest, a Mr. Philippe Sands, a British author who has, surprise!, written a book demonizing the United States for our actions after 9/11, and who seems not able to debate a subject without resorting to snide remarks.

Thiessen's aggressive defense of his arguments and refusal to accept the slanted obfuscation of the subject matter is a thing of beauty.

Amanpour got called out on the carpet, and was thoroughly body-slammed.

It is fascinating, impressive, and worth the watch.

This kind of thing should happen more often.

From HumanEvents.com:

(Note: Second imbed via Michelle Malkin)

CUvFEC

This one, from Reason Blog

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/reason/HitandRun/~3/b-UQAaL8C2U/antonin-scalia-vs-john-paul-st

one thing that jumped right out while reading the dissent (it's also a concurrence, in parts) written by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, is Stevens' angry tone. He calls the idea that the First Amendment forbids distinctions between individuals and individuals organized as a corporation "a glittering generality" with no foundation in the law, and later declares, "Under the majority's view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech." Well!

Those Notorious Right-Wing Organizations….

Those Notorious Right-Wing Organizations….

By Don Boudreaux

Here's another letter that I sent today to the Los Angeles Times:

Criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, Erwin Chemerinsky asserts that "There is no way to see this other than as the conservative justices using judicial review to advance the traditional conservative ideological agenda" ("Conservatives embrace judicial activism in campaign finance ruling," Jan. 23).

Really?  Then why did both the AFL-CIO and the ACLU submit amicus briefs to the Court in support of the eventual winning outcome?  Do these two organizations now embrace "the traditional conservative ideological agenda"?  Seems unlikely.

The better explanation for this ruling is that the five justices in the majority sincerely believe that government restrictions on corporate campaign spending do, in fact, violate the First amendment – a belief that is neither "conservative" nor "liberal," just commonsensical.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

Marriage and Shacking Up

Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO's Corner blog notes:

I did read the Brad Pitt–Angelina Jolie piece Drudge highlighted from it this weekend. I couldn't help it — and I couldn't help but think that it's some kind of jarring cultural milestone when a couple that isn't even married may be headed to a divorce.

....

Take it for what it is — gossip. But it is true that non-marriages that mimic marriages don't tend to end well.

While we're protecting marriage in the law, we need to be protecting it, period. Making it attractive. Making clear it means something.

Chapman on the FEC ruling

http://townhall.com/columnists/SteveChapman/2010/01/24/free_speech_for_corporations?page=full&comments=true

It is often argued that corporate speech may be banned because corporations enjoy certain privileges afforded by law. But it's a longstanding constitutional axiom that the government may not require the surrender of constitutional rights in exchange for state-furnished benefits -- say, barring criticism of Congress by residents of public housing.

Once you grant the government that sort of power, it is bound to expand. Newspapers could be forbidden to make endorsements. Right now, media companies are exempt from the ban. But why should a newspaper be free to spend money urging voters to support a candidate, while other companies are not?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some problems they are having in Haiti

Some problems they are having in Haiti

via Marginal Revolution by Tyler Cowen

1. Since many financial institutions are closed, transport is difficult, and people don't all have their papers (fear of theft also may be an issue), it is almost impossible to receive remittances, which account for more than one-quarter of the country's gdp.

2. The current makeshift shelters are not robust to rain and storms and the rainy season is starting in May.  Rain also brings a greater risk of various diseases.

3. The price of food keeps on rising.  It was already the case -- before the earthquake -- that poor people commonly ate mud cakes as a source of nutrition.  54 percent of Haitians live on less than one dollar a day.

4. The party with the ability to make things happen -- the U.S. military -- isn't formally in charge and is sensitive to bad publicity.

5. In the Darfur crisis, eighty percent of the fatalities came from disease and disease has yet to begin in the Haitian situation.

6. There are already 150,000 accounted-for dead and many more uncounted.

7. It's by no means clear that the aftershocks are over and there is even some chance of a bigger quake to come.  This also discourages aid efforts and the construction of more permanent shelter.

8. Outside of some parts of Port-Au-Prince and immediate environs, external aid is barely underway yet damage is extensive.

9. It is not clear that the upcoming planting season -- which starts in March -- will proceed in an orderly fashion.  One-third of the country's population is living at loose ends and most of the country's infrastructure is destroyed.  For the planting season many Haitian farmers need seeds, fertilisers, livestock feed and animal vaccines.  That planting season accounts for sixty percent of Haiti's agricultural output.

10. Before a limb can be amputated, some doctors have to first go to the market and buy a saw.

Those aren't the only problems.

Tactics against big Prop. 8 backer go too far

Tactics against big Prop. 8 backer go too far, says Chip Johnson at the SF Chronicle.

Like 2 out of 3 Oakland voters, I voted against the same-sex marriage ban. For me, it was because it nullified rights already conveyed on California citizens, and that was wrong.

But at the same time, I need to know that the guy next to me, who voted for it, won't be marginalized, ostracized or excluded because of it.

The freedom to think for ourselves

Jeff Jacoby looks at Citizens Unived v. FCC."The freedom to think for ourselves"

Liberal Rage Over Citizens United

A piece at Big Government.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Health care anecdata

This is from Common Sense Political Thought: My health care anecdata

It’s certainly good news that waiting times in Canada have fallen, but I’d point out that they are less than a season in only one province, Ontario, and even there they are 12½ weeks, just barely under a season. Still, that’s better than 2008, where average wait times were over a season in every province. But while that’s some improvement, in Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island, average wait times were over half a year.

Here in the good ol’ US of A? Medical specialties are advertising to get more clients!
....
My cataract surgery is scheduled for tomorrow, the 19th of January. Total wait time, from the original diagnosis will have been 28 days, and, again, that includes the Christmas holidays and having to change ophthalmologists since my original one had retired from surgery. Realistically, the wait time from the new ophthalmologist alone was four days for the right eye procedure to be completed, and will be fifteen days for the cataract surgery, with a well-regarded surgeon with eighteen years experience in cataract surgery.

Our favorite Kiwi Kommenter would say, “But y’all pay much, much more for medical care than anyone else,” and he’d be right: we certainly do. But if I lived on Prince Edward Island, while my medical care would be “free” — “free” if I didn’t count having to pay higher taxes to support the Canadian health care system — I’d be having my first procedure sometime around the end of June, and only God knows when the second one would occur.

Perry has told us, many times, that physicians are overpaid, that doctors make way too much money, and that that is a big problem with our health care system. John C answered that point:
Let me tell you about my buddy, Karl. Karl is a doctor in Canada and every year when he reaches is prescribed income limit under the Canadian system, he drives to Boca Raton to open his Medical Concierge service. Karl, his wife, June and I go out for dinner often. Karl tells me that in four months in Boca he TRIPLES his income. In Boca he accepts only private insurance or cash.

This means that while Karl is in Boca, Canada is minus one doctor. Karl has several friends who do the same. He has also explained to me how he and his associates refer Canadians to US clinics and hospitals for service they cannot receive in Canada. I asked Karl why Canada doesn’t just pass a law saying they can’t do that. Karl’s answer was: “If they try that we will all just leave the system”.

(N.B., different Karl.)

Perry told us:
In principle, provision of health care services should not be a for-profit system, because health care services are a basic human right, in my view.
Were I to get snarky, I’d ask if that means that grocery stores shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit, since food is certainly an essential, but that’s a debate for another day. But look at the results of a low-profit system in single-payer Canada: long waiting lists, and doctors maxing out their income in eight months, effectively leaving the Canadian system short on physicians when they’ve topped out. Meanwhile, in our very much for profit system, we have very well-compensated physicians, and so much capacity in our health care system that practitioners are advertising for new patients.

From a sign in an auto repair shop:

Fast. Cheap. Good.

Pick any two.

I suspect in a socialized medicine system, you get to pick half as many.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Corporations and the First Amendment

Some comments at the Volokh Conspiracy worth looking at:

Should People Acting through Corporations be Denied Constitutional Rights Because Corporations are “State-Created Entities”?

Why Restrictions on Corporate Speech Reduce Political Equality

Corporate Rights and Property Rights are Human Rights: Why it’s a Mistake to Conflate a Right with the Means Used to Exercise it

Citizens United and the Mainstream Media

Lessened Corporate First Amendment Rights and Media Corporations

People Organized as Corporations are People Too

The Consciousness of a Conservative

From Big Lizards:

The Consciousness of a Conservative

In correspondence with my pal and sometime co-conspirator Brad Linaweaver -- currently publisher of Mondo Cult magazine -- I coughed up a list of characteristics of conservatives.

Mind, this is not some authoritarian, top-down deduction from first principles; I developed this list by inductive reasoning, not deductive: I have studied the conservatives I know for years, and I observed the following traits.

Naturally, not every conservative has every trait; but all of those I would call "conservative" (and who call themselves conservative) satisfy the lion's share of these characteristics.

I have some (those in bold italics) but lack others. My score is 43%, six out of 14, and I do not call myself a consevative. My personal definition of a contemporary conservative ca. 2010 is that he has ten out of the 14 traits, or 70%-75%.

Conservative characteristics

  1. Optimism about the future and the courage to face its challenges
  2. The complete rejection of utopianism or human-achievable perfection -- this one was suggested by Brad; I hadn't thought of it, but Brad is right!
  3. Adventurousness, dreaming big, achieving the "impossible"
  4. Individualism, in contrast to collectivism
  5. Capitalism, in particular, small-business entrepeneurship
  6. Strong tendency towards preserving American traditions, whether good or bad
  7. Patriotism
  8. Religiosity
  9. A strong belief that personhood begins at conception, thus that abortion is nearly always morally bad
  10. A strong tendency to reject evolution by natural selection as denying God and the spiritual nature of Man
  11. Belief in the legislating of virtue
  12. Deep respect for and appreciation of the American military
  13. Respect for the democratic decisions of the people -- extreme distaste for oligarchy (especially kritarchy)
  14. Distrust of foreigners, especially immigrants

(Note that 2 and 3 do not contradict; conservatives reject utopianism... but they also reject defeatism. That's all I meant by these two.)

Your definition of conservative may not match mine; your mileage may vary. Many people call themselves conservatives who I would call liberals or libertarians or even Leftists (e.g., Andrew Sullivan). I'm not saying my definition is the true one or even the best; it's just... mine.

Naturally, readers are encouraged to comment on the list -- what should be deleted, added, or modified. You may fire when ready, Buckley!

German TV on the Failure of Full-Body Scanners

Before we sign up for expensive and intrusive security measures, we should at least verify that they work.

German TV on the Failure of Full-Body Scanners

The video is worth watching, even if you don't speak German. The scanner caught a subject's cell phone and Swiss Army knife -- and the microphone he was wearing -- but missed all the components to make a bomb that he hid on his body. Admittedly, he only faced the scanner from the front and not from the side. But he also didn't hide anything in a body cavity other than his mouth -- I didn't think about that one -- he didn't use low density or thinly sliced PETN, and he didn't hide anything in his carry-on luggage.

Full-body scanners: they're not just a dumb idea, they don't actually work.

Krauthammer on Brown

From National Review Online:

After Coakley's defeat, Obama pretended that the real cause was a generalized anger and frustration "not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

Let's get this straight: The antipathy to George W. Bush is so enduring and powerful that . . . it just elected a Republican senator in Massachusetts? Why, the man is omnipotent.

....

And the Democrats are delusional: Scott Brown won by running against Obama, not against Bush. He won by brilliantly nationalizing the race, running hard against the Obama agenda, most notably Obamacare. Killing it was his No. 1 campaign promise.

Bull's-eye. An astonishing 56 percent of Massachusetts voters, according to Rasmussen, called health care their top issue. In a Fabrizio, McLaughlin, & Associates poll, 78 percent of Brown voters said their vote was intended to stop Obamacare. Only a quarter of all voters in the Rasmussen poll cited the economy as their top issue, nicely refuting the Democratic view that Massachusetts was just the usual anti-incumbent resentment you expect in bad economic times.

....

Democrats must so rationalize, otherwise they must take democracy seriously, and ask themselves: If the people really don't want it, could they possibly have a point?

"If you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call," said moderate — and sentient — Democratic senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, "there's no hope of waking up."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Protozoans Against Intelligent Design

Protozoans Against Intelligent Design

by Ronald Bailey on 1/21/10

The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology has just published a very nice paper showing how the details of protist evolution "dispel the myths of intelligent design." Generally, protists are "unicellular eukaryotes that either exist as independent cells, or if they occur in colonies, do not show differentiation into tissues." Think amoebae or foraminifera.

ForaminiferaBiologists Mark Farmer and Andrea Habura address various ID claims and show how the evolution of protists disprove them. The first such claim is that the Cambrian explosion 545 million years ago cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution - it was too fast. Farmer and Habura point out that protistan evolution had begun well before then and provided the genomic diversity from which multicellular organisms arose.

The second claim is that no one has ever seen the development of a new species -- that is, a new species that becomes genetically isolated from its parent species. Again turning to protists, Farmer and Habura cite the example of just such a speciation event in which amoebae became symbiotically dependent upon infecting bacteria. If the symbotically dependent amoebae subsequently tried to interbreed with the parent stock, the parent stock died of the bacterial infection. Thus the two became genetically isolated.Amoeba

Thirdly, IDers also argue that the fossil record does not show transitional species, therefore there is no evidence of one species evolving into another. Farmer and Habura explain that the exquisitely detailed fossil record of protists does exhibit just such intermediate forms.

Fourthly, the two biologists deal with the claim that nature exhibits biochemical changes that simply are too impossibly complex to occur without a designer. They specifically refute ID proponent Michael Behe's argument that the malaria parasite's resistance to chloroquine is too complex to have arisen through natural selection.

Farmer and Habura conclude:

A detailed understanding of protistan biology, therefore, offers scientists and lay persons alike the ability to address current attacks on evolutionary theory, and to refute the claims of ID creationists who insist on invoking supernatural explanations to account for observable phenomena.

Go here to read their excellent article. I also cannot pass up the opportunity to suggest clicking on the youtube mash up of my talk "Attack of the Super Intelligent Purple Space Squid Creators" which I delivered during a debate with IDers from the Discovery Institute.

Via Tree of Life blog.

Administrative Costs

Less is not always more -- from Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Is Waterboarding Torture?

Marc Thiessen argues the issue with CNN's Amanpour.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti, Poverty and Earthquakes

Deals with the Devil, if by "Devil" you mean corrupt government.

Haiti, Poverty and Earthquakes

by Ronald Bailey

Haiti Satellite PhotoThat poverty made Haiti's recent earthquake devastating is a media truism. But what makes poverty? Haiti's annual per capita income (purchasing power parity) is $1,300. The World Bank issued a fascinating report, Where is the Wealth of Nations?, that tries to quantify the tangible assets (farming, forestry, infrastructure, mining, industry) and intangible assets (courts, education, honest bureaucrats, free press) each country has. It turns out that nearly three-quarters of the world's wealth is intangible, that is, wealth is largely embodied in our social and political institutions, not in physical items.

For example, on average Americans enjoy access to about $418,000 in intangible wealth and total wealth of $512,000. In contrast, on average Haitians have access to only about $6,800 in intangible wealth and $8,200 in total wealth.

So one way to account of Haitian poverty is to look at the effectiveness of that country's institutions. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators rate the quality of variety of institutions in each country on a scale of 1 to 100 - 100 being the best. How does Haiti do?

Voice and Accountability (free press and democracy): 27 (U.S. 86)

Political Stability/No Violence: 11 (U.S. 68)

Government Effectiveness: 9 (U.S. 93)

Regulatory Quality: 19 (U.S. 93)

Rule of Law: 6 (U.S. 92)

Control of Corruption: 7 (U.S. 92)

Go here for my Wall Street Journal op/ed on the intangible wealth of nations. See also my advice to tyrants on how to keep their subjects impoverished here.

More on Signature in the Cell

In this piece, Jeffrey Shallit focuses on "The Dishonesty Factor" in the book -- claims made in the book that are just plain false.

More on Signature in the Cell

by admin@talkreason.org (Shallit, Jeffrey ); on 1/19/10

In the continuation of his critical review of S. Meyer's opus Signature in the Cell, Professor Shallit shows that Meyer, as is typical of Discovery institute pseudo-scientists and quasi-philosophers, does not shy away from direct falsehoods and misrepresentations of facts, along with a shameless praise for the convincingly refuted output by Dembski, Wells and other Discovery institute's "luminaries."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Google just can't seem to figure out how to fix the bug that censors negative suggestions about Islam

Robert Spencer has noticed some strange behavior at Google. Google just can't seem to figure out how to fix the bug that censors negative suggestions about Islam -- Day 13 - Jihad Watch.

Try it yourself. Go to Google, type in "Christianity is" (without the quotes) and you'll see a host of suggestions for completing the sentence, including "Christianity is not a religion", "Christianity is false", "Christianity is a cult" and many others.

Same for Judaism, Hinduism, Wicca, Scientology, Catholicism, religion, and atheism.

Now try it for "Islam is".

Go ahead, I'll wait.

....

Nothing, right?

Lots of suggestions for "Islam", but as soon as you tack on the "is", the suggestion list is empty.

Same thing, by the way, with "Jainism is", and "Wahabism is".

Some of these computer bugs can be most frustrating.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Creationist Information Theory

At Talk.Reason, Jeffrey Shallit looks at what he calls Stephen Meyer's Bogus Information Theory.

In contrast to Shannon and Kolmogorov information, Creationist information has no particular definition.

Securing your laptop from Customs

Bruce Schneier has some suggestions for people who are very nervous about being forced to give their laptop password to Customs: Laptop Security while Crossing Borders.

Last year, I wrote about the increasing propensity for governments, including the U.S. and Great Britain, to search the contents of people's laptops at customs. What we know is still based on anecdote, as no country has clarified the rules about what their customs officers are and are not allowed to do, and what rights people have.

Companies and individuals have dealt with this problem in several ways, from keeping sensitive data off laptops traveling internationally, to storing the data -- encrypted, of course -- on websites and then downloading it at the destination. I have never liked either solution. I do a lot of work on the road, and need to carry all sorts of data with me all the time. It's a lot of data, and downloading it can take a long time. Also, I like to work on long international flights.

There's another solution, one that works with whole-disk encryption products like PGP Disk (I'm on PGP's advisory board), TrueCrypt, and BitLocker: Encrypt the data to a key you don't know.
....
tep One: Before you board your plane, add another key to your whole-disk encryption (it'll probably mean adding another "user") -- and make it random. By "random," I mean really random: Pound the keyboard for a while, like a monkey trying to write Shakespeare. Don't make it memorable. Don't even try to memorize it.

Step Two: Send that new random key to someone you trust. Make sure the trusted recipient has it, and make sure it works. You won't be able to recover your hard drive without it.

Step Three: Burn, shred, delete or otherwise destroy all copies of that new random key. Forget it. If it was sufficiently random and non-memorable, this should be easy.

Step Four: Board your plane normally and use your computer for the whole flight.

Step Five: Before you land, delete the key you normally use.

At this point, you will not be able to boot your computer. The only key remaining is the one you forgot in Step Three. There's no need to lie to the customs official, which in itself is often a crime; you can even show him a copy of this article if he doesn't believe you.

Step Six: When you're safely through customs, get that random key back from your confidant, boot your computer and re-add the key you normally use to access your hard drive.

And that's it.
....
This is by no means a magic get-through-customs-easily card. Your computer might be impounded, and you might be taken to court and compelled to reveal who has the random key.

But the purpose of this protocol isn't to prevent all that; it's just to deny any possible access to your computer to customs. You might be delayed. You might have your computer seized. (This will cost you any work you did on the flight, but -- honestly -- at that point that's the least of your troubles.) You might be turned back or sent home. But when you're back home, you have access to your corporate management, your personal attorneys, your wits after a good night's sleep, and all the rights you normally have in whatever country you're now in.

Inside the world of the interrogators

At National Review Online, Marc A. Thiessen talks with some of the Real Jack Bauers.

Sitting across the table from me were several CIA officials, including two men I will call Harry and Sam (not their real names), I didn’t know anything about the individuals before me except that they were with the CIA and knowledgeable about the interrogation program.
....
They explained, for example, that there is a difference between “interrogation” and “de-briefing.” Interrogation is not how we got information from the terrorists; it is the process by which we overcome the terrorists’ resistance and secure their cooperation — sometimes with the help of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Once the terrorist agreed to cooperate, I was told, the interrogation stopped and “de-briefing” began, as the terrorists were questioned by CIA analysts, using non-aggressive techniques to extract information that could help disrupt attacks.

The interrogation process was usually brief, they said. According to declassified documents, on average “the actual use of interrogation techniques covers a period of three to seven days, but can vary upwards to 15 days based on the resilience” of the terrorist in custody.

Most detainees, they told me, did not undergo it at all. Two-thirds of those brought into the CIA program did not require the use of any enhanced interrogation techniques. Just the experience of being brought into CIA custody — the “capture shock,” arrival at a sterile location, the isolation, the fact that they did not know where they were, and that no one else knew they were there — was enough to convince most of them to cooperate.

Others, like KSM, demonstrated extraordinary resistance. But even KSM’s interrogation did not take long before he moved into debriefing. He had been captured in early March, they said, and before the end of the month he had already provided information on a plot to fly airplanes into London’s Heathrow airport.

As they described the information the CIA had gotten from KSM and others, I slowly realized that these men were not simply describing what others in the agency had done; I was sitting face to face with the individuals who had actually questioned terrorists at the CIA’s black sites and gotten the information they were describing to me themselves.

Harry, it turned out, had interrogated KSM. He explained that interrogations involved strict oversight. There was no freelancing allowed — every technique had to be approved in advance by headquarters, and any deviation from the meticulously developed interrogation plan would lead to the immediate removal of the interrogator.

Harry said the average age of CIA interrogators was 43 and that each interrogator received 250 hours of training before being allowed to come in contact with a terrorist. And even after that, he said, they had to complete another 20 hours working together with an experienced interrogator before they could lead an interrogation on their own. Contrary to the claims later made by some critics, such as FBI agent Ali Soufan, the CIA did not send a bunch of inexperienced people to question high-value detainees.

Harry explained that the interrogations were not violent, as some imagined. He said that the interrogators’ credo was to use “the least coercive method necessary” and that “each of us is put through the measures so we can feel it.” He added: “It is very respectful. The detainee knows that we are not there to gratuitously inflict pain. He knows what he needs to do to stop. We see each other as professional adversaries in war.” (Indeed, Mike Hayden told me years later that KSM referred to Harry as “emir” — a title of great respect in the jihadist ranks.)
....
Soufan, the FBI agent and CIA critic, has written: “When they are in pain, people will say anything to get the pain to stop. Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to make you stop hurting them. . . . That means the information you’re getting is useless.”

What this statement reveals is that Soufan knows nothing about how the CIA actually employed enhanced interrogation techniques. In an interview for my book, former national-security adviser Steve Hadley explained to me, “The interrogation techniques were not to elicit information. So the whole argument that people tell you lies under torture misses the point.” Hadley said the purpose of the techniques was to “bring them to the point where they are willing to cooperate, and once they are willing to cooperate, then the techniques stop and you do all the things the FBI agents say you ought to do to build trust and all the rest.”
....
the first terrorist to be subjected to enhanced techniques, Zubaydah, told his interrogators something stunning. According to the Justice Department memos released by the Obama administration, Zubaydah explained that “brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” In other words, the terrorists are called by their religious ideology to resist as far as they can — and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know.

Several senior officials told me that, after undergoing waterboarding, Zubaydah actually thanked his interrogators and said, “You must do this for all the brothers.” The enhanced interrogation techniques were a relief for Zubaydah, they said, because they lifted a moral burden from his shoulders — the responsibility to continue resisting.

The importance of this revelation cannot be overstated: Zubaydah had given the CIA the secret code for breaking al-Qaeda detainees. CIA officials now understood that the job of the interrogator was to give the captured terrorist something to resist, so he could do his duty to Allah and then feel liberated to speak. So they developed techniques that would allow terrorists to resist safely, without any lasting harm. Indeed, they specifically designed techniques to give the terrorists the false perception that what they were enduring was far worse than what was actually taking place.

So in response to those who say torture doesn't work -- if you call waterboarding torture, then refusing to torture doesn't work.

A deal with the devil

Pat Robertson has made the news by calling the suffering in Haiti the result of a deal with the Devil.

If we assume any of this can be taken metaphorically, maybe there is a deal with the devil to the extent that the people of Haiti are throwing their support behind kleptocrat dictators and renouncing policies that would have promoted wealth on the island. As James Peron points out at The Freeman, poverty kills.

The earthquake in Haiti was a magnitude of 7.0. According to Wikipedia, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in San Francisco was either 7.0 or 6.9 depending on which scale is used. In other words, the intensities were fairly similar. Haiti is devastated. If the New York Times is correct, the death toll could be in the tens of thousands. The death toll in the 1989 quake was 63, if you include indirect deaths due the quake.

The difference is wealth. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest areas in our part of the world, while Haiti is the poorest. Poverty makes natural disasters worse. Wealth mitigates natural disasters.

Climategate: Cleaning out the in-box

Following are links to articles about global warming / climate change.

First, Merv at Prarie Pundit looks at a piece that appeared on Real Clear Politics:

More seriously, in one e-mail, a prominent global warming alarmist admits to using a statistical "trick" to "hide the decline" in temperatures. Anthony Watts provides an explanation of this case in technical detail; the "trick" consists of selectively mixing two different kinds of data-temperature "proxies" from tree rings and actual thermometer measurements-in a way designed to produce a graph of global temperatures that ends the way the global warming establishment wants it to: with an upward "hockey stick" slope.

Confirming the earlier scandal about cherry-picked data, the e-mails show CRU scientists conspiring to evade legal requests, under the Freedom of Information Act, for their underlying data. It's a basic rule of science that you don't just get to report your results and ask other people to take you on faith. You also have to report your data and your specific method of analysis, so that others can check it and, yes, even criticize it. Yet that is precisely what the CRU scientists have refused.
The fraud at the core of the Globo warming crowd is what caused them to try to reframe their issue as "Climate Change." This was a more amorphous term that would make it easier for them to explain anomalies, but that was still not enough. They had to cook the books.

Tracinski is right about the expenditures at stake in this debate, but it overlooks the loss of freedom that is also at stake. The globo warmers are control freaks who want to use this manufactured "crisis" to control every aspect of our lives. The totalitarian polices they want to impose would make the communist blush.

From Samizdata:

Why the fuss is because of the vast, globe-spanning policy conclusions that have been plucked from these in themselves rather minor deceptions. The fraud revealed isn't just in the fiddling of some numbers. There is also the faking of that precious scientific consensus that has so dominated public and official thinking about climate and climate policy during the last decade. The world is being sold a gigantic economic and political upheaval, backed by the claim that all this scientific rough-and-tumble, this slightly dodgy infighting, was in fact a blandly uniform scientific consensus. And the "scientists" (who more and more now look like politicos who have barged their way into science) are the engineers of this political fraud, not just the contrivers of the scientific opinions around which they have assembled their bogus consensus.

One of the more feeble responses that have so far been put forward by The Green Mob is that these emails were stolen, so it's wrong to talk about them. But this is not a private matter in any meaningful sense. This is not people being filmed doing weird things to one another in their own bed, in their own property. This is public policy of the most public sort. The vast wealth that The Green Global Government is trying to transfer from those creating it to those wanting to gobble it up (many of the gobblers being themselves), is taxed wealth. The money paying for this corrupted climate "research" is tax money. The issues at stake are matters of earth-shaping public policy. Millions upon millions will be tipped into impoverishment by these grand plans. If that isn't a "public interest" defence for the leaker or hacker or whatever, then I don't know what is.
....
Getting back to the matter of why this is all so important, these revelations will echo around the world not only because they are part of an absolutely gigantic global story, but also because of the peculiar nature of the Global Warming debate.

Basically, the Global Warming debate has been a gigantic exercise in argument from authority. In debates like this one the great mass of onlookers are being told that they must take some particular judgement on trust, because the experts are all agreed about it. The science is settled. All the scientists agree. Who are you to criticise? What do you know about climate science? Who indeed? What indeed?
....
...Last night on Channel 4 news, a long-gray-haired scientist type was interviewed by the young chap in a suit fronting the show. All that Professor Long-Gray-Hair could think of to say was that if his good friend Phil Jones had done what his good friend Phil Jones is now being accused all over the planet of having done, well, er, that would be very silly - scientist, tampering with evidence, reputation, most precious resource, blah blah - therefore Phil Jones, er, can't have done it. In other words, Professor Long-Gray-Hair was himself resorting to the Argument From Authority. Scientists just don't do that sort of thing! Not one shred of an argument was heard from Professor Long-Gray-Hair to the effect that, if you study the actual evidence, you will find that Phil Jones did not in fact do what he is accused of. I know about his observations and experiments, I've looked at the data, I know this guy, he does not lie, he does not cheat, it all adds up. Nothing like that. Not one shred of expertise was presented, in a form that might have exonerated Phil Jones. Had Professor Long-Gray-Hair simply broken down in tears and cried: "I don't know I don't know I don't know it's all too horrible to think about ... waaaaaargh!!!", he could not have made a worse impression....

Jonah Goldberg has his take at The Corner:

This should be considered not merely a scientific scandal but an enormous journalistic scandal. The elite press treats skepticism about global warming as a mental defect. It uses a form of the No True Scotsman fallacy to delegitimize people who dissent from the (manufactured) "consensus." Dissent is scientifically unserious, therefore dissenting scientist A is unserious. There's no way to break in. The moment someone disagrees with the "consensus" they disqualify themselves from criticizing the consensus. That's not how science is supposed to work. Skeptics who've received a tote bag from some oil company are branded as shills, but scientists who live off of climate-change-obsessed foundations or congressional fiefdoms are objective, call-it-like-they-see-it truth seekers. Question these folks and you get a Bill Murrayesque, "Back off, man. We're scientists."

An even larger reason this is a journalistic scandal is that governments want to spend — literally — trillions of dollars on climate change. Industries want to make billions off it. The poor will be hurt. Economies wrenched apart. And journalistic skepticism is almost nowhere to be found. If you know people in the "skeptic community" (for want of a better term) or even just normal, honest scientists, the observation that federal and foundation funding and groupthink is driving, or at least distorting, the climate debate is commonplace. But it's given almost no oxygen in the elite press, because they are in on it.

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy quotes George Monbiot as saying:

The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging(1). I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released(2,3), and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request(4).

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics(5,6), or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(7). I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

Adler then notes:

The hack or unauthorized disclosure of these documents may have been illegal (unless protected by the UK’s whistleblower law). Yet the documents themselves also provide evidence of illegal activity by several climate researchers.

Monbiot is quick to note that the leaked documents do not disprove global warming nor discredit the wealth of evidence that human activity contributes to cliamte change. They do, however, suggest that some specific claims and data sets will need to be reanalyzed.

Der Spiegel has a piece on the accuracy of climate modeling.

"Give me ten parameters, and I'll simulate an elephant for you. Give me one more, and he'll wag his tail." The saying sums up the problem with many models. Models allow you demonstrate anything and everything, as long as there are enough knobs to turn. The real test of how good a model really is comes when you compare it to reality.

But when it comes to climate change, researchers are faced with a practically insoluble problem: We won't know for sure until the end of the century whether climate predictions for the year 2100 are correct or not. But with climate scientists around the world warning of the dangerous consequences of climate change, it becomes apparent that we can hardly afford to wait that long.

Card skimmers

Brian Krebs writes at Krebs on Security about card skimmers. These devices copy the electronic information from debit and ATM cards, have pinhole cameras to watch the user put in a PIN number, and save all the info for their owners.

You won't know your card has been cloned until you start losing money from your account.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Government, citizens and business

Bookworm cites one of her friends on the difference between government power and the power corporations wield over people. A perfect statement about the balance of power between government, citizens and business:

Think about what government is. It’s a giant corporation, with incredible powers… Confiscatory taxation. The power to create and enforce laws, giving it complete control over your life, liberty, and property. Military and police powers and personnel to enforce its will. The ONLY thing standing in its way in trampling every right and freedom under the boot of whatever the little kings and queens in Washington DC believe is best is our Constitution. I don’t fetishize that, but it’s a literal truth — the only thing that maintains our freedoms is the extent to which citizens take their rights seriously. It is absolutely critical to our actual personal well-being that we vigilantly limit the size and power of govt. Because it is so much more powerful and dangerous than any corporation, by 1000x.

Against that in your theory are business corporations, which have basically zero power over consumers or citizens. They can offer services and hope people buy. That’s it. The only way they have any more power than that is when they make corrupt deals with government, to put the power of government behind them. It happens all the time, and it’s bad. Both sides are at fault; they are often the same people. I happen to have some direct insight into corruption of that kind in Treasury, for example, and it’s disgusting, and incredibly expensive to all of us, enriching a few. But the problem occurs when we let government act without transparency, and take powers it does not rightfully have. The current health care bill makes that much much worse, with a horrible system imposed on businesses and individuals, preventing other better systems from evolving. It is much worse than nothing, and is unconstitutional. It would be much better to remove the existing government constraints on real and effective competition.

I will say that government does have a real role in preventing corporations from harming people by usurping common property… i.e. by polluting, or selling secretly unsafe products. So entities like the EPA, the FDIC, and the FDA make perfect sense, and there are others as well, that implement our social compact, governing our common resources while enabling the maximum possible freedom. I’m a big fan of National Parks — setting aside national treasures from the potential for harm — and similarly a fan of the national highway system and the Internet. As long as those initiatives or research efforts are approved by voters in simple proposals — we are willing to pay X as a common tax-funded program because it is a wise infrastructure investment that is better commonly owned than privately owned, and it would be hard to get private investment on that scale. But of course we properly let private alternatives evolve too — toll roads, private networks, alternate currencies, etc. — and these private innovations often work better. I believe the role of govt in all cases is to establish standards, and then let private business and individuals operate as much as possible, limiting it’s own scope, powers, and need for taxation as much as possible.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Monogamy and Polyamory

G. Tracy Mehan, III looks at monogamy and polyamory in Cultures Monogamous and Polyamorous at The American Spectator.

Monogamy versus polyamory. Fagan describes this great divide in an article in the latest issue of Touchstone which is based on a talk (PDF) he gave this past August to the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam. His description of these contending worldviews is clinical, yet bracing in its implications for the fate of the family, the culture and American society as a whole.

Fagan embraces a broad definition of polyamory, which a popular dictionary defines as the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time. It is derived from the Greek, poly or many, and the Latin, amor or love. Clearly, Fagan's definition includes a whole range of liberated sexual practices such as homosexuality, although some gay advocates reject the association.
....
Fagan is not a timid soul. He fearlessly describes, in excruciating detail, the profound differences and assumptions that differentiate the cultures of monogamy and polyamory. In addition to the obvious case of religion in the public square, they part ways on the very concept of freedom. The former emphasizes "the freedom to be good," that is monogamous and faithful. The latter promotes "freedom from any constraints upon sexual behavior."

Monogamy seeks objective truth and norms. Polyamory is relativist in its moral orientation. The one promotes a limited constitutional state because it assumes self-imposed restraint and self-discipline. The other relies on social welfare programs "to rescue its adherents from the effects of its form of sexuality."

On children, abortion, the role of the traditional family and the responsibility of fathers as well as mothers, these cultures reflect antithetical views.

"In the culture of monogamy, men are anchored in their families and tied to their children and wives, through the free and deliberate focus of their sexuality," says Fagan. "In the culture of polyamory, which treasures sexual freedom or license, such sexual constraint by men (or women) is not expected, nor, in fact, is any attempt to foster such constraint acceptable, for that would be the antithesis of the main project of the culture of polyamory, women are anchors, while men can drift (or be cast adrift) as desired, and they do so in very large numbers."

Ironically, the culture of polyamory aggressively fosters the kind of male feminists justly decry: the sexually and physically harassing, the abusing and abandoning male. "Being the natural cost of its defining project, these and related dysfunctions justify and necessitate more safety nets," says Fagan.

Despite the costs and social pathologies fostered by the culture of polyamory, it thrives by controlling the commanding heights of the culture and public policy: childhood education, sex education, and adolescent health programs. This, argues Fagan, allows it to reach into traditional culture, gradually dismantling it and gaining "converts":
In a polemical vein, one could say the polyamorists "snatch" children away from their parents and from the culture of monogamy just as the Ottoman Turks of the fourteenth century raided boys from Christian nations to train them as their own elite warriors, the Janissaries.
The culture of polyamory jealously guards these positions of strength. Fagan notes how the rise of abstinence education in the United States, essentially education in monogamy, galvanized a ferocious counter-attack resulting in cutbacks in federal funding. The resistance to home schooling in Europe displays some of the same animosity.

Friday, January 15, 2010

California on trial

It has been said that if elections actually had the power to change anything, they'd be illegal. 
Now, from the Ruth Institute:

Advocates of same sex marriage are so convinced of the rightness of their cause, they believe they only have to accept elections when they agree with the outcome of the elections.  This trial itself is not just a trial of Proposition 8. The voters of California themselves are on trial, for having the temerity to vote in favor of natural marriage.  When Ted Olson calls the campaign managers of Prop 8 to the witness stand, he is, in effect, calling the voters of California on to the stand. It is every person who voted yes on 8 who is on trial here. Make no mistake about that.  

Perhaps now you can see why I chose the quotation from Eric Voegelin for the opening of this column. Let me give you the full quotation, without the elipses, and note that Dr. Voegelin wrote this in 1938.

They (the theorists of German National Socialism and Italian Fascism, both drawing on the vocabulary of German Romanticism) reject the political determination of will by the people– again especially in the German theory, where the Fuhrer is the only carrier of the people's will. In the teaching on the plebiscite, the idea that the act of voting is an act of national will is decisively rejected.  The plebiscite is to express and enforce the concordance between the objective will of the people embodied in the Fuhrer and the subjective convictions of the people. The plebiscite is a declaration of loyalty to the Fuhrer, not an announcement of an individual's will. … The god speaks only to the Fuhrer, and the people are informed of his will through the mediation of the Fuhrer. (66-7)

Voting invalid unless it conforms to the "national will:" this is not the kind of political system we want to live under. 

Not Pat Robertson

It seems Danny Glover also believes the earthquake in Haiti is retribution for human sins:

Actor Danny Glover believes that the Haitian earthquake was caused by climate change and global warming:

Says Glover: "When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm sayin'?" His obscene opinion would be bigger news if Glover had – in the manner of others – idiotically blamed a less-fashionable deity.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Market for Chronic Care

The Market for Chronic Care

I have argued before that, but for third-party payers, a market for chronic care would have developed long ago. What do entrepreneurs do in every other market? They find people with unmet needs and figure out low-cost ways of solving their problems. Yet with a large and growing number of uninsured and a growing number of people with high-deductible insurance, markets for chronic care may develop anyway.

In several cities, Walgreens is offering pharmacist consultation to diabetics. (The service is free now, but there may be charges later; and, in any event, Walgreens is selling them drugs.) If it works, the program may expand to asthma, high cholesterol and obesity.

Pat Robertson Speaks -- alas

This take, by Michael Laprarie at Wizbang, is well worth reading, both for the history lesson and the multiculturism.

Robertson's clumsy reference is to Dutty Boukman, a Haitian voodoo priest who prophesied on August 22, 1791 that a group of slaves would lead a revolt and free the French slaves on Saint-Domingue. Along with an African priestess, Boukman galvanized his prophecy by performing several voodoo rituals including the sacrifice of a pig. A few days later, the Haitian Revolution began. Boukman was subsequently caught and beheaded by the French, who displayed his severed head in an attempt to convince the slaves that Boukman did not possess supernatural powers. But Boukman's legacy among the Haitian people remains strong even to this day, and so does the persistent belief that Boukman's voodoo curse still haunts the island.

....
How a Westerner understands this I think largely depends on how he understands God and spiritual forces. There are still many Christians today from fundamentalist or apostolic backgrounds who strongly believe in "spirit warfare"; that is, they believe that heavenly forces (angels) and satanic forces (demons) are perpetually engaged in the kind of warfare described in Revelation 12. ...
....
Seventy nine year old Pat Robertson is an old-school Southern Baptist. He undoubtedly believes that the voodoo practiced by the island's inhabitants, particularly the sacrifice that Dutty Boukman made to the forces of evil over 200 years ago, are shameful to God, and have caused God to choose to withhold His divine protection from the people of Haiti, even though He loves them just as he loves all of us. That's pretty Old Testament-sounding stuff, reminiscent of how the Prophets explained the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and the exile of the Jewish people into the land of Babylon. To our modern ears, it sounds cruel and illogical.
 
But at the same time Robertson urges charity toward the Haitian people. He doesn't hate them, and hopes that their destruction will bring about their repentance -- the same effect that the Babylonian exile had on the children of Israel. Robertson's Operation Blessing is already preparing to devote the majority of its resources to provide immediate aid to the people of Haiti.
 
For the record I don't follow John MacArthur and Pat Robertson's reasoning about why bad things happen to good people. (You can read my somewhat lengthy explanation, posted at my personal blog a couple of years ago, if you wish.) But it bothers me when other people put words in their mouths and accuse them of hoping for the destruction of people they supposedly don't like. And as Mary Katherine Ham noted yesterday (with tongue placed firmly in cheek), "employing [the] Reid standard, should we not look at Robertson's record of helping disaster victims & absolve him of 'inartful' comments?"
 

Pants On the Ground!

Pants On the Ground!

With all the sadness in the world today, just watch this and smile. And get ya pants off the ground!

"You call yourself a cool cat, looking like a fool. Walking down town with your pants on the ground."

Here's another version with some additional lyrics.

Sunspots and climate

The Climategate crowd successfully worked to obscure the connection between solar activity and climate. The leaked CRU e-mails reveal how.

In 2003, two Harvard-Smithsonian Professors, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, published a peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal Climate Research which identified solar activity as a major influence on Earth's climate. This paper also concluded that the twentieth century was not the warmest, nor was it the century with the most extreme weather over the past thousand years. These two scientists reviewed more than two hundred sources of data. The paper specifically examined climate variations observed to coincide with solar variations. One of the more notable correlations cited in this paper is the well-documented coincidence of the Little Ice Age and a solar quiet period, known as the Maunder Minimum, from A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1900. Soon and Baliunas asserted that the lack of solar activity resulted in cooler temperatures across the globe. The evidence they compiled also indicated that as the sun became more active global temperatures began to rise and the Little Ice Age ended.
....
The solar correlation became a lightning rod. More than a dozen e-mails from the Jones Gang discuss how to discredit Soon and Baliunas. Ultimately, the gang decide to compile a new paper to counter the conclusion made by Soon and Baliunas, as detailed in an e-mail from Dr. Scott Rutherford dated the 12 March 2003. Dr. Rutherford does not go head-to-head with the data presented in the Climate Research paper, but he seemingly wishes to "cook" other data to counter the honest work of Soon and Baliunas, as stated by the following:
 
First, I'd be willing to handle the data and the plotting/mapping. Second, regarding Mike's suggestions, if we use different reference periods for the reconstructions and the models we need to be extremely careful about the differences. Not having seen what this will look like, I suggest that we start with the same instrumental reference period for both (1xxx xxxx xxxx). If you are willing to send me your series please send the raw (i.e. unfiltered) series. That way I can treat them all the same. We can then decide how we want to display the results.
 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Menu Labeling, Meet Digital Gastronomy

Holy S**T! It's a food-jet printer!

Menu Labeling, Meet Digital Gastronomy

There are a lot of problems with requiring that restaurants include calorie counts on their menus and placards. But one of the biggest is that it's very difficult get accurate measurements day to day, chef to chef, and dish to dish. If the rest of the nation goes the way of the Big Apple—and it looks like it might, thanks to some provisions hidden in the health care bill—and gets tough on menu boards, restaurateurs are going to need some technological help with the compliance. Food testing is expensive and time consuming. But what about food synthesis?

Behold a new project from MIT's Fluid Interface Group, Cornucopia:

it's the personal food factory!

Cornucopia is a concept design for a personal food factory that brings the versatility of the digital world to the realm of cooking. In essence, it is a three dimensional printer for food, which works by storing, precisely mixing, depositing and cooking layers of ingredients.

Cornucopia's cooking process starts with an array of food canisters, which refrigerate and store a user's favorite ingredients. These are piped into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate combinations of food. While the deposition takes place, the food is heated or cooled by Cornucopia's chamber or the heating and cooling tubes located on the printing head.

And here's the part New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and molecular gastronomist Ferran AdriĆ  will both love:

This fabrication process not only allows for the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques, but it also allows the user to have ultimate control over the origin, quality, nutritional value and taste of every meal.

Note to Michael Pollan: Your grandmother certainly wouldn't recognize this.

Via John Inderdohnen

Move the UN to Dubai

The emirate of Dubai has completed the tallest building in the world -- half a mile high.
Joel Kotkin and Robert J. Cristiano at Forbes Magazine suggest we move the UN to Dubai.

Let's spell out the logic. The United Nations is a pain in the butt. It pays no taxes and annoys hard-working New Yorkers with its sloth, pretensions and cavalier disregard for traffic laws. The place is a sinkhole dominated by anti-American, anti-Semitic and authoritarian fantasies. It is far from the elegant crown jewel that celebrated the U.S.'s global ascendancy after the Second World War.

Today the U.N. building is a mostly empty shell--water dripping through its roof, asbestos lining its ceiling and an erratic heating and cooling system have forced most UN workers to new facilities. The building is in the midst of a $1.87 billion overhaul--of which the U.S., which could use the cash for myriad other things, would be on the hook for $437 million.

And the U.N. may be leaving anyway. A relocation committee has recommended that the organization move temporarily to Singapore by 2015. It will be hard to vacate Asia again for New York, which is far away from the bulk of the world's largest population centers.

....

Let's look a bit longer term. Right now there's 33.6 million square feet of mostly state-of-the-art office space in Dubai. More than 8 million square feet is vacant with millions more in the pipeline. There's a great airport--as opposed to that aerial dumpster, JFK--that is hours closer to the emerging economic powers of the new century, notably the oil states, India and China. The workforce is skilled and open to foreigners, since the vast majority are foreigners. In Dubai 83% of the 2.2 million residents are from somewhere else. Talk about cosmopolitan.

....

Bringing the United Nations to Dubai makes sense. New York gets rid of one of its worst welfare cheats, and Dubai finds new tenants to fill its vacant towers. Dubai has already built something that looks the part of a 21st-century world capital. Let it get a cast appropriate for its glittering set.