Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dick Cheney: dumber than Bush

At least Bush has the common sense to STFU*. The recent terrorist attempt by the briefs bomber has brought out all the whackos--- with Dick Cheney leading the way. Of course, Michigan's very own Pete Hoekstra has been in rare form as well.

Personally I kinda like that Barack Obama didn't go off on a tirade about the flub up by the State Dept, or the CIA or whoever screwed up. The nature of law enforcement is that it entails a bureaucracy, and these large bureaucracies, while necessary, are inherently inefficient and problematic.

As has been said multiple times over the last eight years, the terrorists only have to be right once, but we have to be right every single time. What is lost in the current discussion is that several attempts have been thwarted the past few months. It's a scary world, and leave it to the Republicans to wet their pants at every provocation.

Anyway, Maddow has a terrific review of the insanity:

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(*Altho I still maintain that the former president is suffering from a medical form of dementia that will be announced within the next couple years.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tiger Woods: Person of the Year?

From Frank Rich:

What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.

What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

For what it's worth, when given the choice, I've always rooted for Mickelson... and if he's using steroids it could only be Premarin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Have you heard of the Heidelberg Appeal?"

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I don't expect Pat Buchanan to understand environmental science, but I would expect him to understand a document written in English. He invoked the Heidelberg Appeal as evidence that "4000 scientists including 72 Nobel Prize winners" do not believe that climate change is a problem. Buchanan then went on to call climate change the "biggest hoax" perpetrated on mankind.

What is the
Heidelberg Appeal? It's a document written in 1992 with signatories who call for the advance of science and warn against pseudo-science in the public sphere especially when drafting policy. If asked, I would feel very comfortable signing this document myself:

Text of the Heidelberg Appeal

Addressed to the chiefs of state and governments

Heidelberg, April 14, 1992

"We want to make our full contribution to the preservation of our common heritage, the Earth.

"We are, however, worried at the dawn of the twenty-first century, at the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development.

"We contend that a Natural State, sometimes idealized by movements with a tendency to look towards the past, does not exist and has probably never existed since man's first appearance in the biosphere, insofar as humanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse.

"We fully subscribe to the objectives of a scientific ecology for a universe whose resources must be taken stock of, monitored and preserved. But we herewith demand that this stock-taking, monitoring and preservation be founded on scientific criteria and not on irrational pre-conceptions.

"We stress that many essential human activities are carried out either by manipulating hazardous substances or in their proximity, and that progress and development have always involved increasing control over hostile forces, to the benefit of mankind. We therefore consider that scientific ecology is no more than an extension of this continual progress toward the improved life of future generations. We intend to assert science's responsibility and duty towards society as a whole. We do however forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet's destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.

"We draw everybody's attention to the absolute necessity of helping poor countries attain a level of sustainable development which matches that of the rest of the planet, protecting them from troubles and dangers stemming from developed nations, and avoiding their entanglement in a web of unrealistic obligations which would compromise both their independence and their dignity.

"The greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression, and not Science, Technology and Industry whose instruments, when adequately managed, are indispensable tools of a future shaped by Humanity, by itself and for itself, overcoming major problems like overpopulation, starvation and worldwide diseases."[1]

What the Heidelberg does NOT say is even more important: it says nothing about climate change, polar ice caps, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, or any other specific item germane to any current debate. Heidelberg is merely a general invocation of the value of true science for solving the world's problems.

And Buchanan is scientifically proven to be an ass-hat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Leaked Tiger Woods Sex Tape

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Before Climategate, there was...

... the Oregon petition, among a multitude of other organized scams to make global climate change appear controversial. New Scientist outlines a number of purposeful deceits put out by global warming skeptics over the years, some hatched by carbon industry operatives and others by unknown folks.

So why are scientists held to a different standard? My brief time in academia showed me that the competition is fierce for grant money, publication and prestige within the scientific community. Likewise with industry and the fear that must be rampant concerning a change in the status quo. If one is going to rale on about the east Anglia emails, then they should also recognize the skeptics' lies.

On a related theme, Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, has an op-ed in the NYT recently that praises large corporations for their "green" technologies and policies. Sure, these policies are mainly cost-saving, such as using less gasoline and recycling materials, but Diamond's point is well-made: that conservation can be business-friendly and the government may have a role in promoting such tactics.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Climate and vested interests

New Scientist has an excellent article that goes point-by-point over the East Anglia emails and explains why they do not indicate a "conspiracy" about climate change.

I'm not a climate scientist and the only way I could possibly know if the planet were warming and by what cause would be to review data collected by scientists and consider their interpretation. I would have to weigh the evidence for and against the hypothesis as best I could and would also have to factor in any motivations by the proponents of the thesis as well as the skeptics.

We have a friend in town who is an environmental professor at the local university. About 10 years ago we had a conversation about global warming (this was before the term climate change, before Al Gore's movie, before all the latest controversy) when I broached the subject. This professor is level-headed with no axe to grind and has no affiliation with corporations or movements related to climate change. He has never published climate related research. He unequivocally stated that he had no doubt, after having reviewed the peer-reviewed articles, that climate change was occurring and it was due to man-made greenhouse gases.

Can it be possible that nefarious influences are promoting a hoax upon the world community about the dangers of climate change? Sure. But it certainly could also be true that opposing
nefarious forces, with much more at stake financially, could be influencing the debate from other camp. Oil, gas and coal interests have an immense amount to lose if carbon emissions become taboo and I would think that they would have a huge motivation to do everything in their considerable power to distort the debate.

Of course, motivation alone does not equate to wrong doing. The fact is that we will know for sure in time if the planet is warming, and we will likely continue to gather data and research about it's causes. Scientists in the field are already convinced about the change and the cause, and slowly the rest of us will gain insight as well.

I would also be quick to add that even George W. Bush, the oilman-turned-president, eventually came to the opinion that not only was the planet warming, but it was via man-made factors. In other words, on this issue there is hardly a photon of difference between his view of anthropogenic climate change and the man who beat him at the polls in 2000.

If indeed anthropogenic climate change is a reality, who is likely to be the last to be convinced? If the data were presented to everyone, which population would be the most likely to deny it? Answer: those whose lifestyle would the most negatively impacted. It's tough to realize that your very way of life runs counter to your long-standing world view.

Jared Diamond in his book Collapse relates story after story of civilizations that denied the step-wise relentless preventable destruction of their habitat which eventually led to their respective demise. What thoughts went through the Easter Island inhabitant's head as he was cutting down the last visible tree for firewood? Did he think some miracle would replenish their forest? Or some new technology would make trees unnecessary? We'll never know because that civilization became extinct shortly after that tree was cut down.

Recently, I joined a discussion on Facebook about the merits (or lack thereof) of the theory of evolution. It all started with a disparaging remark by Christian minister Rick Warren: "It takes a greater leap of faith to believe that nothing created everything." Of course, I took issue with this idiotic swipe at biology's greatest thinker, especially on 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's opus, The Origin of Species. I got the usual evangelical push back, testaments of their faith in their sky wizard, an outpouring of prayers to save my heathen atheist soul and, finally, this masterpiece from a commenter named Pete:

We believe in creation not because of scientific evidence, but because of our faith in Jesus Christ and in His Word the Bible. The Lord Jesus is revealed in the Bible to be the Creator of all things (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:1-3), and He is for Christians the Lord of all and the Head over all things, including science (Acts 10:36, Ephesians 1:22). Jesus said something about science in John 5:45-47, namely this: If we believe in Jesus Christ, then we must believe Moses' writings. What did Moses write about first of all? He wrote about the creation of all things by God. So we judge science by the Bible and not the other way around. "We walk by faith, not by sight." ([2] Corinthians 5:7)

And it hit me. There will always be Petes in the world and no amount of rationality will ever change them. The investment in their world view is unshakable. After 150 years of geologic evidence, fossils, paleontology, genetics, chemistry, etc, that all corroborate the great thesis of Darwin, we still have 45% of the US population who don't accept the science of evolution... that's a big steaming pile of stupid. You could exchange the term "internal combustion engine" for Jesus Christ and "gasoline" for Word of God and pretty much sum up the debate on climate change today. Just as light bulbs went on above the heads of serious scientists in 1859, the fundamentalist Christians and other irrationalists dug in their heels for the fight against evolution; their goal was not to understand the science, but rather to defend their embattled world view. The irrationalists were seasoned in the fight because they had been to battle many times before against the astronomers, the physicists, the navigators, who dared to developed hypotheses that ran counter to their entrenched religious dogma.

Now we are at it again. This time the irrationalists are not necessarily Christian, but the motivations are the same. The leadership-- carbon-based fuel producers, oil, gas and coal industry-- has a vested interest in the status quo just as the Church leaders of yore had a vested interest that was threatened by Galileo's solar system or Darwin's natural selection. The lemmings merely follow.

Our political process is never completely discernible, but to me it's fairly clear that the public will not support any sweeping changes to our lifestyle until there is visible and palpable evidence that our way of life is in danger. That's how we roll. That's why we have been so successful at denying other inevitabilities: the harm of slavery, the idiocy of racial discrimination, the counter-productivity of unnecessary wars, the ongoing foolishness of ignoring the health care crisis, prohibiting gay rights., etc, etc.

Maybe scientists are wrong and climate change is no big deal, but I doubt it. Unlike Darwinism, however, the denial of climate change has the potential of threatening our habitat. Denying evolution merely makes you ignorant; denying climate change could be devastating.