Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Is In Denial?

Judith Warner is upset with the Republican Party's position on climate change. She made this warning in the New York Times:
Some conservatives argue that the Republican war on science is bad politics and that catering to the “climate-denier sect” in the party is a dangerous strategy, as David Jenkins, a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection wrote recently on the FrumForum blog. Public opinion, after all, has not kept pace with Republican rhetoric on the topic of climate change. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in January found that 83 percent of Americans want Congress to pass legislation promoting alternative energy, and a recent poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that almost two-thirds want the Environmental Protection Agency to be more aggressive. 
If this is true, why didn't the Democrat-controlled Congress pass climate change legislation in 2009 or 2010? If it's so popular, what stopped them from doing it?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Have an Alternative Before You Complain

Friday, Slate put up a legal analysis of Obamacare's progress through the federal courts. The second paragraph contains an outrageous canard that is now in its second decade:
The strategic calculus behind the Republicans' foot race to the high court is not mysterious. No doubt they are banking on a rerun of the court's December 2000 decision to abort the post-presidential election recount in Florida and assure George W. Bush's election. To political professionals of all stripes and many laypersons, Bush v. Gore stood, and still stands, for the proposition that when political chips are down, the five conservative justices will ignore precedent and vote their partisan gut. 
In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the ongoing manual recount in Florida was unconstitutional. No fair analysis can label that a partisan vote. They were then left with a second question: what now? The Court ruled 5-4 not to give Florida the opportunity to start a new recount because there wasn't enough time. They relied on a Florida safe harbor statute ending all recounts by December 12th (the Supreme Court was also ruling on the 12th). Democrats Critics of the decision focus on this part of the ruling, but even if everything they say is true, and the Court had allowed a new recount, it would have resulted in a disaster.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken was elected the same day as President Obama: November 4, 2008. However, because his race was so close, and required a manual recount, Mr. Franken wasn't sworn in until July 7, 2009, over eight months after the election. This might have been a tad unfair for Minnesota, since they went most of that time with only one senator, but it wasn't a problem for the country as a whole. Actually, due to resignations, illnesses, and deaths, it is quite common for the Senate to be short a member or two.

The presidency is different, and the Constitution treats it differently. It contains ironclad rules to make sure the United States always has a president. And, unfortunately for those who wanted to 'count every vote' in Florida, the Republic couldn't wait until July 4th weekend to host an inauguration.

The Electoral College was going to vote on December 18, 2000. Period. It wasn't going to wait for Florida to count every vote. It wasn't going to wait for anything or anyone. If Florida didn't cast its electoral votes because the Supreme Court had allowed it to initiate a new (and unfinished) recount, neither candidate would have won a majority in the Electoral College, and the election would have gone to the House of Representatives to be decided. Every single vote cast for the presidency on November 7, 2000, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would have been nullified. The only votes that would now matter would be the ones cast by the newly elected House when it convened in January 2001. If the Supreme Court had adopted the mantra to 'count every vote', it would have ensured that NO votes counted.

Such a precedent would have been an abomination. Losing candidates in close elections would now be motivated to tie things up in a couple of state courts - preventing a clean Electoral College win - and then take their chances in the House of Representatives. All future close elections would be decided by the House instead of the Electoral College. Yet, critics insist that the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore was anti-democratic? As is so often the case, what has become liberal conventional wisdom, is the exact opposite of the truth.

Maybe I'm being too harsh on the Sunshine State. While it took Minnesota eight months to manually recount three million ballots, perhaps Florida could have recounted six million in the six days between the Supreme Court ruling and the Electoral College vote. However, I've read numerous criticisms of Bush v. Gore, and not one of them dared to suggest that a new recount could have been done in that period. They whine that there should have been a new recount, but they are never honest about the fact that a new recount was impossible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Dahlia Lithwick, February 23, 2011:
The real surprise on Wednesday wasn't that the Obama administration decided it could no longer legally defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which mandates that the federal government not recognize same-sex marriages and stipulates that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from other states. It's that it took so long to get here. ... 
From now on, explained Holder, the administration will continue to enforce DOMA—but it won't defend it, because it doesn't pass the heightened standard of scrutiny it should receive in the courts. ...
The president seems to have finally acknowledged a truth played out at the Proposition 8 trial in California last summer: Virtually all of the arguments advanced to deny gay couples the right to marry are based on moral animus and junk science, rooted in discredited cases like Bowers v. Hardwick and in unfounded bias that is increasingly hard to defend in open court.
Dahlia Lithwick, September 22, 2010:
... I have been fascinated by Christine O'Donnell's constitutional worldview since her debate with her opponent Chris Coons last week. O'Donnell explained that "when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional." How weird is that, I thought. Isn't it a court's job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn't that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?
You might wonder: why is it OK for Obama's Justice Department to stop defending a law in court because they believe it is unconstitutional, but it's "weird" for a Senator to vote against a law they believe is unconstitutional when this is a "court's job"? The answer is that Lithwick agrees with Obama's constitutional views, but not O'Donnell's.

But, at least we're making progress. Two out of three branches are now entitled to have an opinion about the constitution, and to act on that opinion.

Never Ask a Name-Caller For Consistency

Yesterday, the Obama Administration said it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law which, among other things, defines marriage, for federal purposes, as between one man one one woman. Intrepid blogger, Charles Johnson, had this to say:
This is excellent news for anyone who believes the government should not be enforcing the homophobia of religious fanatics.
Despite the policy change, President Obama has yet to endorse same-sex marriage. Most supporters of same-sex marriage concede that this is probably political pandering, rather than a reflection of his true beliefs. Either way, they don't fault Obama. It's only everyone else who are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.  

The Defense of Marriage Act passed the House 342-67, the Senate 85-14, and was signed into law by then-President Clinton. The Act had the support of a large cross-section of the political spectrum. Were all those involved fanatic homophobes, or just the ones Charles Johnson doesn't like?

The New Republic's New Motto: "Just Wait 50 Years and Someone Will Agree With Us"

Jonathan Chait, of The New Republic, begins a blog post today with a fascinating opening paragraph. Let's start with the first two sentences:
With the entire political world focused on the dangers of the national debt, it's worth stepping back and thinking about how this came to be. After all, I think a very solid case can be made that climate change presents a more urgent problem than the national debt.
Many bright people have been trying for decades to make the case that climate change is an urgent problem. A few weeks ago, I wrote about this issue:
Intelligence Squared US hosted a global warming debate in 2007. For 100 minutes, two panels argued over the following motion: Global Warming Is Not a Crisis. The audience was polled before and after the event. The pre-debate numbers were: 30% for the motion, 57% against, and 13% undecided. After the debate, the numbers were 46% for the motion, 42% against, and 12% undecided. In less than two hours, the alarmists had lost more than a quarter of their supporters!
The panelists included some heavy hitters and the event might be the most high profile climate change debate ever held. Nevertheless, the alarmists could not convince a New York audience that global warming is a crisis (unlike Chait, they didn't even have to argue it presents a bigger crisis than the national debt).

Chait's opening graph continued: 
The damage from climate change, unlike the the [sic] damage from the debt, is irreversible.
This is a claim without substance. Climate always changes, regardless of whether humans are influencing it. If human beings never existed - never evolved from lower primates - the climate would still be changing right now. The climate can't be frozen in time. It is not static. Labeling climate change "irreversible" so it can be distinguished from other threats is sophistry, because climate change is irreversible whether humans are influencing it or not.

Numerous empires have collapsed from excessive debt. I don't think all of those collapses were reversible. The reversibility, or lack thereof, of climate change and national bankruptcy is not the issue.

But, Chait is not going to give up. Climate change is more of a fact, and a bigger threat than the growing debt:  
Moreover, while climate science is being treated as speculative and budget forecasts as hard fact, the reverse is closer to reality: budget forecasts are highly unreliable.
Maybe we don't even have a deficit? Who can know for sure? 
I have a hard time believing that a highly informed person transported from the future to the present would analyze the problems facing the United States and conclude that the political class should focus like a laser beam on the budget deficit while largely ignoring climate change.
When people defend their positions by saying: I'm right because this person agrees with me - it should raise a red flag. This is one of the laziest forms of argumentation known to man. They are relying on authority and consensus rather than facts. If I had to argue the Earth is round, I'd prove it. I wouldn't argue I'm right because all of these scientists over here agree with me. Why do that when I have the facts to prove the Earth is round? 

But, Chait's argument is even more duplicitous. Chait isn't arguing that he is correct because scientists today agree with him. Chait is arguing he's right because educated people in the future will agree with him. Chait rests his piece on the authority of people who don't exist!

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 2 - Hail Caesar

"Every day Rob impresses me. It is unbelievable how well he can just talk to people and play this game and see what they need and fulfill that need. It is absolutely amazing." - Matt

The Cult of Rob deepens. Kristina offered no signs of resistance this week, and even Philip has submitted. The player with the least self-control now asks Rob when he can go to the bathroom. If you look carefully at one of the longer shots, you can see Grant and Matt carrying Rob to the immunity challenge on their shoulders.

Anyway, we know what happened: Matt showed sportsmanship, which is something I do after every competition, but is prohibited for one of Caesar's gladiators. And, though Philip blew the challenge, he had shown enough supplication to please the Emperor. Therefore, after the games, Rob gave Philip a thumbs up, and Matt a thumbs down.

This provided an early test for his devotees: would they sacrifice one of their own so early? Andrea was not to be trusted, but the other three never questioned the order. Kristina dutifully played the immunity idol, and Philip passed his elaborately crafted loyalty test. Not a single thing happened in that tribe which Rob wasn't in control of. Even the cameramen asked Rob where to set-up.

Rob may act like he had no choice, but it looks as if he likes the power that comes with sitting on the throne. Caesar is going to get stabbed in the back one day, but he'll be ruling with an iron fist until the spell is broken. Tonight's events may do just that, as the wrath of Andrea will be unleashed. Perhaps she can act as a deprogrammer for the rest of the tribe. If Matt was so quickly disposable, maybe the others can awaken to the fact that their tribe is in deep trouble. However, it might take additional tribal councils before they question their faith.

Rob said he didn't want to play the game this way, but his strategy is coming into focus: get rid of competition early. He knows he's going to Redemption Island at some point. He figures he has a plausible shot of winning several one-on-one duels. If he survives that and comes back - he needs to go on an immunity challenge run. The best way for this to work is to get rid of the physically stronger players early. He's sending them to Redemption Island so they can cannibalize themselves. That way, when Rob goes to Redemption Island, he only has to beat one person at a time.

If Matt's staying fit into Rob's plans, he could have burned down the shelter without raising Mariano's ire. But, the supposed slip-up of congratulating the other tribe gave Rob the excuse to target him. Sending Matt to Redemption Island was more important than winning future tribal immunities. The stronger players better watch where they step, or they'll be going next. This is why Rob has chosen to align with Natalie - who seems to be the weakest since the tribe put her in charge of the locks (Andrea & Ashley are athletes). If I were one of them, I'd try getting to know Kristina (just in case). 

As for the other tribe, Russell's bravado is playing thick, but, I was on his side regarding the confrontation over the immunity clue. I have no idea why Ralph forced that. Was he simply trying to show his tribemates that Russell is duplicitous? They already know that. I don't think Ralph has the wits to win this game.

When the immunity challenge ended so early into the hour, I was certain that the show would climax with a Redemption Island duel. I guess they're going to place it at the beginning of each episode, so this show had a little too much talk for my taste. The stuff about Russell and the clue lacked drama because Russell is not going to find the idol. It also lacks intensity because I don't think Russell has any chance of surviving his tribe's first vote. All of his bragging aside, Russell needs a tribe mix-up to save his neck.

I was worried about Boston Rob and Russell being on this season. I thought they'd be dead men walking, which means they'd be there to goof off, draw attention to themselves, and collect an appearance fee from the producers. My fear was that the show would have 16 people playing Survivor and two wannabe celebrities doing something completely different - and it wouldn't work.

I still think Rob and Russell are playing "Celebrity Survivor" not Survivor, but I'm starting to see that Rob at least has a plan - and is trying to win. I think he might have made a mistake this week, and he still needs to be the center of attention, but he is trying. I didn't think this episode was particularly good, but I'm optimistic for the season. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Dangers of False Memes

Peter Beinart has a puzzling piece in The Daily Beast in which he notices that conservative realists and neoconservatives have different views regarding American foreign policy. These differences were supposedly enough for it to be titled "The Right's Hypocrisy on Freedom." How such a vast section of the political spectrum, which encompasses at least two major foreign policy camps, can be collectively labeled hypocrites is left to the reader's imagination, but there is an additional assertion Beinart makes that is worth discussing. He writes in his opening paragraph (emphasis added):
The past few weeks have been clarifying. Ever since he took office, the press has been calling Barack Obama a ruthless realist who lacks the passion for democracy and liberty of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The fact that Bush’s war on terror provided a pretext for all manner of tyrants to crack down on their political opponents or that the Bush administration itself tortured terror suspects rarely intruded on the narrative. Bush was an idealist because he invaded Iraq, despite the fact that democracy became the war’s primary public rationale only after America failed to find weapons of mass destruction. 
Early in the post-invasion period, columnists would complain that Coalition forces hadn't found "stockpiles" of WMD. But, as time has gone by, that qualifier has become rarer as critics grew more comfortable making assertions similar to the one above. More importantly, as Beinart does here, it is often stated that finding WMD was the primary rationale for the 2003 invasion. The first WMD claim is factually incorrect and the latter, logically defective.

Despite the growing conventional wisdom that there were no WMD, U.S. forces did find chemical weapons in post-Saddam Iraq. Not a lot, but some. And, some is not none. The military has explained what was found, what treaties Iraq had signed and violated, and why the weapons qualify as WMD. The Wikileaks document dump confirms this.
Do these weapons, alone, justify the invasion? No, but must columnists be so lazy with their language? Precision about what is said concerning WMD is no vice. Furthermore, false or not, the claim that there were no WMD makes no sense at all. Why would anyone expect to find any? To this day, I'm astounded that the military recovered what little they did.  

When the police suspect someone of harboring illegal goods, they go to a judge and get a search warrant. They never call the suspect beforehand and tell him when they are dropping by. Surprise is a key element when conducting a search. Without it, you wouldn't expect to find anything.
Saddam Hussein had every reason to get rid of his WMD prior to the 2003 invasion. It is clear his strategy was to have his loyal troops melt into the population and create an insurgency that would drive the United States out of Iraq (a la Somalia in 1993). Destroying American resolve would be the key, and not finding WMD would obviously damage that cause (the absence of any reason for the invasion does damage to the cause, which is why critics have jumped on this reason - even though it was secondary at best). Therefore, it is self-evident that it was in Saddam’s interest to get rid of his WMD, and he had plenty of advanced notice to do so. Israeli intelligence believes he moved most of what he still had to Syria several weeks before the invasion. (The media might not care where Saddam's chemical weapons went, but Israel does). Anyway, given that Saddam had notice and incentive, why would anyone expect to find WMD post-invasion? The claim that there were no weapons of mass destruction, even if true, means nothing.

Not all weapons of mass destruction are the same. Nuclear weapons can do a lot more damage than a chemical attack. Saddam had had his chemical weapons for decades, but they were not the primary reason for the invasion. If you're worried about a dangerous weapon in the hand of an enemy - you go to war before he acquires them. Why provoke war once he has them? The war was about removing Saddam before he acquired WMD of the nuclear variety. America didn't invade Iraq to find WMD, it invaded Iraq to remove a regime before it might acquire nukes. 

People of good faith can argue the state of Iraq's nuclear program in 2003. However, most people opposed to the invasion wouldn't reconsider even if Saddam stood on the brink of nuclear capability (their views on attacking Iran's nuclear program confirm this). The U.S. took out Saddam because the post-Gulf War containment strategy was failing, and America didn't want to wake up one day to find out Iraq was a nuclear power. North Korea is one of the most isolated countries on the planet, yet after 50 years of containment following an inconclusive war, they were able to develop a nuke. [Note: for various geopolitical reasons, removing the regime in Pyongyang before it went nuclear was impossible]. 

There was a lot of mention of Iraq's chemical and biological weapon capabilities pre-invasion. There are two reasons for this. First, it's an easier legal case to make when one argues about weapons a regime has, rather than ones they might want to acquire. Ones they may want don't physically exist, and are much harder to prove. Secondly, Tony Blair's aides believed that Saddam's continuing violation of the U.N. regarding his chemical weapons was the best legal justification for the invasion under British law.

Whether a stockpile was found or not, the fact that some were found satisfies the legal niceties the British worried about. This might explain why opponents of the war dropped the "stockpile" qualifier and began to declare there were no WMD at all. Many of these same people claim the Bush Administration misled the public about WMD, compounding the irony. 

A policy of using force to prevent lunatic regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons is controversial in many outposts, but can it be taken off the table? Tough sanctions didn't stop North Korea and have yet to work on Iran. How many lunatic regimes with nukes can the world afford to tolerate? Can they be deterred like a conventional nation? If they supplied a nuke to a terrorist group and the investigation involved time and uncertainty, would the U.S. retaliate six months later - even if it was only 90% confident about who was responsible? The dangers of lunes with nukes was, and remains, the primary rationale for the 2003 invasion. Again, this means the U.S. didn't expect to find nuclear WMD.

The fact that the media still (mistakenly and illogically) claim there were no WMD in Iraq, makes one wonder whether they would accept any conclusions about a terrorist nuclear attack? In some ways, the meme about Iraqi WMD damages America's deterrence capability. A terrorist-sponsoring regime has many reasons to believe there would be little will to retaliate if there are enough vagaries regarding a surreptitious terrorist strike. By repeatedly misstating the facts about WMD, the media feeds this perception. This meme is false, deleterious to America's reputation, and detrimental to her national security. Is it any surprise that it has become a firmly entrenched piece of folklore for the left?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fanning the Culture Wars

I am of the opinion, and I'm not alone, that social issues should be decided at the local level. One size does not fit all. When liberals nationalize social issues and impose it on all 50 states, I completely understand the resentment of social conservatives - even when I don't necessarily share their view.

New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, is upset with the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. He's a social conservative, Ms. Collins is not. He is duly elected, Ms. Collins is not one of his constituents. However, in her most recent column, she has a lot to say about Mr. Perry's priorities while governing. Some of her critiques are that:
  1. Taxes in Texas are too low.
  2. Texas does not spend enough on education.
  3. Texas has too many restrictions on teenagers getting contraception.
  4. Texas should not teach abstinence only sexual education in its schools.
  5. Texas doesn't respect science enough.
Some of Collins' critiques I might agree with, and some I might not. But, what struck me about the column is that it is one long mockery of social conservatives. While reading it, all I could think to myself was: does every last jurisdiction in the country have to adopt the complete liberal social agenda before they will stop? Is it really only conservatives who perpetuate the culture wars when liberals are putting out columns like this?

Abortion was imposed nationally by the courts. Liberals are trying to do the same with same-sex marriage because it loses every time it comes to a vote. Will every issue be nationalized? Can Texas have their own tax policy? Their own sex education policy? Can Texas be left to decide anything?

Collins is allowed to have her own opinion on these issues. But, Texas is one of the few states that is not a basket case - and there are plenty of liberal ones which are. It's easy to pick and choose what to mock, but if you look at the big picture, liberalism isn't doing very well, but Texas is.

Collins senses that what's going on in Texas really isn't her business, so she justifies her column this way:
Meanwhile, Perry — having chosen not to help young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and not to pay enough to educate the booming population of Texas children — wowed the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington with his states’ rights rhetoric.
Which would be fine, as I said, if his state wasn’t in charge of preparing a large chunk of the nation’s future work force. Perry used to be famous for his flirtation with talk of secession. Maybe we should encourage him to revisit it. 
See - because Texas is big, Collins has a right to mock how it does things - and if they're not going to adopt the liberal agenda, maybe we'd all be better off without them!

Stay classy, Ms. Collins.

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 1 - Amateur Hour

"I know how Boston Rob thinks. And, right now, he's thinking: 'oh, crap. I'm stuck with a bunch of weenies.'" - Russell Hantz


Rob has the early control of his tribe after correctly identifying and neutralizing the main competition (Kristina & Francesca). It was a masterful performance - based on wisdom, insight, charisma and star power. It's not his masterpiece - which is still when the Robfather manipulated Lex and Kathy into keeping Amber - because the level of competition here is not the same as in All-Stars (as Rob said in the voting booth, he was facing amateurs).

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for the older folks on Rob's team. I've never seen a tribe fracture so cleanly and quickly. Every person under 30 on that beach is a full-blown Rob acolyte (they celebrated like Londoners on V-E Day when Rob pulled the yellow buff out of the sack). What were the older three to do? I don't see how they were going to ingratiate themselves with that group, and that realization fueled their desperation. Francesca joked that she was in an alliance with someone she really didn't like - but, she really didn't have a choice.

I congratulate Kristina on finding the hidden immunity without any aids. However, her plan to use the idol to take out Boston Rob was crazy. Even if it worked, they would all be completely screwed. They had just gotten blown out in a challenge. Without Boston Rob, they might expect to win 1 out of the next 5. Furthermore, their three person alliance would still be outnumbered by the five youngsters remaining, and they wouldn't have the idol anymore. Francesca (by far the brightest of the three) correctly nixed this idea. But, they didn't come up with an alternative. Francesca and Kristina didn't appear to have any conversations trying to convince somebody to vote out Natalie. They didn't even have a conversation trying to direct the majority's attention to Phillip rather than themselves. Their plan appeared to be nothing more than to show up to tribal council and wait to see which one of the three Boston Rob would decide to vote out first. Compounding their problems, they neglected to tell Phillip this was the new "strategy."

Phillip came across terribly in this episode, and as a consequence, I would expect his software company to go bankrupt by the summer (would you do business with that guy?). However, despite Francesca's complaints, he had a couple of good points. First, I don't care where Andrea grew up - farm girl or not, she was close to hacking her foot off. Secondly, Phillip might have been overly aggressive in saying it, but he had pinpointed the key issue - where were the extra votes going to come from? Kristina finally showed him the immunity idol to appease him - but they still didn't have the votes. And, the two women abandoned their plan because of it - without telling Philip. Phillip had specifically said he didn't want to vote for Rob without the numbers, and ultimately that's what they left him to do. No wonder he was steamed at tribal. He came across poorly, but I understand his anger. If Francesca spent less time mocking Phillip, and more time trying to break up the cult of personality surrounding Rob, maybe she wouldn't be stuck on Redemption Island.

We don't know much about the cultists (except that Ashley felt she had let Rob down in the challenge - so she is in deep). If they lose again, all they need to do is split their votes between Kristina and Phillip - flush the idol - and vote them out over the next two tribals. Can Kristina use the allure of the idol to save herself for a couple of episodes, a la Marty last season? Maybe. We'll see. I think she made the right decision not to give the idol to Rob and not to play it. Both also took a lot of guts. She's tough, creative and aggressive, but she's in one heck of a hole.   

I don't expect to see Francesca back in the game. It sounds like the remaining person on Redemption Island won't come back until they get down to 4 or 6 players. So, the earlier you're voted out, the more individual showdowns you'll have to win to stay. I'm guessing they'll be a mixture of physical and mental - but, how many people can win 10 or 12 of those in a row? Ouch! Odds are that the person to re-enter the game will be voted out much later than now.

Except for 20 extra pounds on his frame, Russell 3.0 looks a lot like 2.0 & 1.0. I doubt it will have the same success. Aside from that, we don't know much about that tribe except that they dominated the challenge and are very suspicious of their celebrity tribemate. They don't need him, and know enough to get rid of him ASAP.

Overall, this was an excellent opening episode. My concerns are:

1. Russell's tribe might dominate the challenges.
2. The next two tribal challenges for Rob's group might lack drama.

Last thoughts:

1. Dave and Mike had worked out Russell's alliance with Steph already. Also, they were working together (a thirtysomething version of the JT/Steven alliance in Tocantins?). Sarita had worked it out too. Right now, I think those are the three to watch on Russell's tribe.
2. I jokingly called them cultists - but anyone in the alliance with Boston Rob has improved their chances (in my mind). They are now safe for the next two votes and can get rid of Boston Rob whenever they want after that. Plus, Rob will help them in the challenges and around camp NOW. Finally, they could go into the merge as a strong five-person alliance.
3. I couldn't believe how many supplies and tools both tribes started with - but, then I realized that the weekly showdown on Redemption Island will take some time - so they'll probably cut the tribal rewards (which they had been phasing out anyhow).
4. The "what if" examples they used between segments were awful. Do people really wonder about the missed opportunities for Shambo, Erik, Jane or Brenda? The only one who was a remotely good enough player to deserve to win was, maybe, Brenda. The other three were completely pawned by superior players.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Save Hubris For The Pharaohs

One of the more interesting byproducts of the recent Arab protests has been the discussion among commentators over whether these events serve as an affirmation of the Bush Administration's "freedom agenda." Since most revolutions do not end in a functioning democracy, it is probably premature for neoconservatives to crow too loudly about recent events, however, the blowback from their critics has also been too emphatic. For example, earlier this month, Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate:

In this week of tumult and revolution throughout the Middle East, few spectacles have been more pathetic—more crudely and shamelessly vain—than the attempt by certain neocons to portray the rush of events as a vindication of their own long-discredited ideas.

If you haven't the time to read the article, that's good. I'm not endorsing the piece, just citing it for its tone. Kaplan never does get around to explaining why neocon ideas have been discredited. I guess if it happened long enough ago, it spares him the bother. However, the subtext is to make sure his readers are reminded that no good can ever come from the invasion of Iraq. For a similar viewpoint, you can watch Bob Wright fume when fellow blogger Mickey Kaus suggests the possibility that Iraqi democracy influenced the Egyptian protesters (52:25 of the February 7th video).

Alas, neocons and their critics aside, events in Tunis and Cairo need to play out further before sweeping conclusions can be made about the influence Iraq might have had. However, historian Niall Ferguson has highlighted one key way a continuing freedom agenda might now aid Egypt (if the Obama Administration hadn't canned it). Here is a video of the full eleven minute interview. The transcript (most of which came from Newsbusters - except for one gap I filled in myself) begins at 5:00:
Let me put it this way – if we want to see secular democratic forces prevail in a country like Egypt, which is overwhelmingly a Muslim country, which has a tradition of Islamic radicalism in the form of the Muslim brotherhood, it is not going to happen by itself. The lesson from Eastern Europe going right back through the Cold War is that the United States had to very actively support democratic forces until finally the moment came in 1989 when they could step forward into the limelight - and they were ready. Just take the example of Czechoslovakia: Vaclav Havel comes into the foreground in 1989, but he had been receiving support from the United States and other Western allies since 1977. We haven't got a plan here, and if we don't have a plan to build a secular democracy in Egypt it is not going to happen.
It would be too sweeping to suggest that every administration have a "freedom agenda" as its number one policy priority at all times. Even the Bush Administration backed away a bit in the second term. However, rejecting the freedom agenda outright can leave an administration caught off guard. The dangers of Mubarak's departure are pronounced. Here is Ferguson again (8:00):
I do think that the President regards making touchy-feely speeches as a substitute for having a strategy, and I want to emphasize the risks that are currently being run in that region. If you look at history –  and remember, I'm a historian – most revolutions do not lead to happy-clappy democracies, but to periods of internal turmoil, often to periods of terror, and they also lead to external aggression because the simplest way to mobilize people in a relatively poor and not very well-educated country like Egypt is to point to the alleged enemy within and then, of course, the enemy abroad. The scenarios that the Israelis are looking at involve a transition not to some kind of peaceful and amicable democracy, but to a Muslim Brotherhood-dominant regime, which then pursues an aggressive policy towards Israel. This is not a zero-probability scenario, this is a high-probability scenario, and as far as I can see the President isn't considering it.
For a more upbeat analysis, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs had this to say shortly after Mubarak's departure:
The results of a new phone survey commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy show that Egypt is not going to become an Islamic theocracy ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the relentless fear-mongering of the American right wing.
I didn't know this was so clearly a right/left wing issue since even neoconservatives (who hardly speak for all on the right) have been split by this. But, it's a relief to know that the concerns are merely "fear-mongering" and that a phone survey can conclusively "show that Egypt is not going to become an Islamic theocracy". Those pollsters keep getting better and better. I never knew they could decide such a thing.

Sarcasm aside, the opening point bears repeating: there is a tad too much certainty when commentators discuss Egypt (or more specifically, when they denounce their political opponents while discussing Egypt). A little more modesty is in order here.

2009 vs 2011

Now that Mubarak has stepped down, and a new protest movement grips Tehran, it might be worth making one observation about the commentary that predominated the last time Iranians took to the street. If you'll recall, in June 2009, the regime faced massive demonstrations after a disputed presidential election. During the turmoil, there was much debate about the Obama Administration's restrained response. Defenders of this policy (from both the right and left) relied on the notion that any hint of American support for the protesters would do the movement considerable harm. Here is conservative columnist Peggy Noonan writing in the Wall Street Journal on June 19, 2009:
To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. 
Similarly, Democratic Senator John Kerry had this to say in the pages of The New York Times:
If we actually want to empower the Iranian people, we have to understand how our words can be manipulated and used against us to strengthen the clerical establishment, distract Iranians from a failing economy and rally a fiercely independent populace against outside interference. Iran’s hard-liners are already working hard to pin the election dispute, and the protests, as the result of American meddling. On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry chastised American officials for “interventionist” statements. Government complaints of slanted coverage by the foreign press are rising in pitch.
Mubarak was an ally, and the mullahs are not (which is only one of many distinctions that can be made). However, I couldn't help noticing that I never once heard the Noonan/Kerry argument during the recent Egyptian protests. There was plenty of debate about whether the Obama Administration should support Mubarak or the demonstrators. There was much concern that the revolution could be against America's long-term interests. But, not once did I hear someone say that American support for the protesters would discredit the movement. If the Egyptian protests were in America's interests, as I hope time will tell, why wouldn't our support discredit the movement as "mindless lackeys" (Noonan), or backfire and "rally a fiercely independent populace against outside interference" (Kerry)?

I raise these questions unsure of the answer. It could be that American support for the Iranian protesters was so obvious that it was best to keep quiet. Though, if that's the case, should we have been mute during the 1989 revolutions when the regimes in question were our Cold War adversaries? Surely, our rooting interest was obvious then?

Whatever the reason, if the new Iranian protests gather momentum, and begin to rival the 2009 effort, I wonder if Obama can dust off the old playbook after displaying such vocal support for Cairenes? Would a muted response seem like a betrayal to the Iranian people after the events of the last month? Or, if his 2009 response was correct then, must it be repeated today?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sobering Stat

This is a shocking stat from Veronique de Rugy:
First, there’s the $1.6 trillion deficit. That figure is the same as the entire budget of the United States in FY1998 (FY1986 in real terms, which is interesting considering the tendency to compare Obama with Reagan).
Even when adjusted for inflation, the deficit is larger than the entire 1986 budget.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Weather Is Not Weird

For the last several years, climate change alarmists have focused on the argument that a warmer planet will see more extreme weather events. This claim serves two purposes:
  1. Any abnormal weather event (including blizzards and cold spells) can be blamed on global warming.
  2. Such anecdotal events of extreme weather (a blizzard here, a hurricane there) can be accumulated and pointed to as a body of evidence demonstrating the collective impact of climate change.
There's one problem, though. It's not too difficult to count the number of extreme weather events, and, a research project has done just that:
As it happens, the project's initial findings, published last month, show no evidence of an intensifying weather trend. "In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years," atmospheric scientist Gilbert Compo, one of the researchers on the project, tells me from his office at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871."
In other words, researchers have yet to find evidence of more-extreme weather patterns over the period, contrary to what the models predict. "There's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather," adds Roger Pielke Jr., another University of Colorado climate researcher. 
There is nothing weird about the weather, only the alarmists' reaction to it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Debate Canard

Bradford Plumer of The New Republic is upset with the state of the climate change debate:
Is this what the climate-change debate has come to? Just two years ago, after Barack Obama’s victory, environmental groups were ecstatic at the prospect that the United States might finally do something serious about climate change. But now, after the cap-and-trade bill failed in the Senate and Republicans won big at the midterms, it’s the skeptics who are riding high in Congress—so high, in fact, that they barely feel the need to argue their case.
Since the alarmists' plans would cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year, isn't the burden on them to make their case? Have they?

Plumer laments the Republican plan to block EPA regulation of carbon emissions:
If you don’t believe climate change is a problem (or real), then of course most of these new carbon rules are pointlessly pricey. And, within the Republican Party, the belief that global warming is a made-up non-problem has become thoroughly ingrained—so much so that it’s no longer even worth justifying or debating.
I love a good debate. If you go on You Tube, you can find people debating all sorts of issues: from abortion to zoology. Christopher Hitchens, alone, has had dozens of debates about the existence of God.

However, the number of climate change debates is miniscule. There is a simple reason for this: alarmists get creamed.

Intelligence Squared US hosted a global warming debate in 2007. For 100 minutes, two panels argued over the following motion: Global Warming Is Not a Crisis. The audience was polled before and after the event. The pre-debate numbers were: 30% for the motion, 57% against, and 13% undecided. After the debate, the numbers were 46% for the motion, 42% against, and 12% undecided. In less than two hours, the alarmists had lost more than a quarter of their supporters!

The same organization hosted a second debate in 2009. This time the motion was: Major Reductions In Carbon Emissions Are Not Worth the Money. Pre-debate, the audience voted 16% for the motion, 50% against, and 35% undecided. After the debate, the undecideds had moved toward the skeptics. It was now 42% for the motion, 48% against, and 10% undecided.

In a focused debate, global warming alarmism withers under the scrutiny. It's easy to make a 90 minute film presenting the alarmist argument. But, it's much more difficult to answer questions from the opposition. That's why Al Gore will not debate the issue. But, I'm not just picking on the former vice president. Few alarmists of any background will debate global warming. Last August, filmmaker James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) backed out of a global warming debate the day before it was to occur. Why the sudden cold feet? If the case for alarm is undeniable, what was he worried about?

Again, the two debates I've linked to are rarities. Alarmists loathe getting on the stage with skeptics, which shows that they are conscious of the weaknesses in their arguments. They need to spend less time demonizing the Republicans and more time improving their case. The fact that they don't is reason to suspect their motives.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Exercise in Hyperbole

I don't know much about the latest videos concerning Planned Parenthood, so I went to Little Green Footballs to see what Charles Johnson had to say:
Gail Collins has a good piece in the New York Times about the latest smears perpetrated by Lila Rose (and hyped by fraudster Andrew Breitbart) against Planned Parenthood. ...
The truth is that Lila Rose could not care less about real child slavery. Using actors playing pimps and prostitutes is a cynical trick, as Collins points out, to smear an organization that helps millions of low-income women every day. But Rose’s fanatical religious views tell her it’s fine to lie, distort, and fabricate evidence if it furthers the cause of destroying women’s rights.
I'm not a pro-life absolutist, but is it cynical to equate abortion rights with women's rights? Has it been that clearly established that women's rights hinge on access to abortion? If abortion is restricted would that somehow end women's suffrage or otherwise destroy women's rights? Is the claim that the pro-life movement wants to destroy women's rights a "fanatical" view?

I don't know Lile Rose from a hole in the wall, but I was eager to see evidence of "the truth" about her complete disinterest in child slavery. However, there was nothing forthcoming in the rest of the blog post. I'm not sure if we should call that assertion by Johnson a smear. Since he's the expert, someone should ask him.

Johnson ends with this:

Gail Collins says it well:
There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.
Is that a smear?

I have two questions: If someone is a secular humanist that believes the fetus is a human life - what can they do or say to note their objection to abortion without being accused of wanting to destroy women's rights or otherwise being smeared as "attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth"? Under what parameters may the pro-life movement operate that wouldn't offend Collins or Johnson? I want to be part of the new civility.

P.S. I have to confess - Johnson is right about one thing. I don't care one iota about child slavery. No one who leans pro-life does.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My SUV Brought Down a Tyrant!

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has blamed the recent civil unrest in Egypt on rising food prices caused by global warming:
While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning. ...

The usual suspects will, of course, go wild over suggestions that global warming has something to do with the food crisis ...

But the evidence does, in fact, suggest that what we’re getting now is a first taste of the disruption, economic and political, that we’ll face in a warming world. And given our failure to act on greenhouse gases, there will be much more, and much worse, to come.
If, instead of the one degree of warming we've had over the last century, there had been one degree of cooling, would that have improved agricultural production? The answer is almost certainly no. This creates a conundrum: Krugman claims the extreme weather of a warming world is harmful to agriculture; yet, a cooling world would also decrease crop yields. The implication is that the world of 1850-1900 was a climate optimum for agricultural production - but how could anyone claim to know such a thing? Due to better technology, agricultural yields have sky-rocketed over the last 100 years. How could anyone weed through that data of changing variables and proclaim that even though yields were inferior - the late 1800s were the climate optimum for global agricultural production?

The late 19th Century had better agriculture than the Little Ice Age which preceded it (again, cooler temperatures are bad for agriculture), but it was even hotter in the Medieval Warm Period than it is today - a time when agriculture flourished. (It should be noted that all of the periods had political unrest).

There's no doubt that recent events in Egypt have been fueled by higher food prices. However, this chart shows the rise to be a blip in the post-WWII trend of declining food prices.

Do short-term weather events effect food prices? Yes. Can the recent weather events be attributed to long-term climate changes? No. Linking a warmer world to more extreme weather events is still very tendentious (and it's the key to Krugman's argument).

Will long-term climate change (yes, the climate is changing) lead to lower global agricultural yields? Unknown. Probably not. At least, there's little reason to think it will.

Is the unrest in Egypt due to climate change? Such an assertion is dubious.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do I Take Xanax For This?

Anyone else bristle when their political views are smeared as a mental illness? Criticize political Islam - that makes you an Islamophobe. Oppose same-sex marriage? You are a homophobe.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, ever on the edge of forensic psychology, has identified a new disorder:
If this was a dispute about policy, of course, Republicans would be willing to pursue alterations. ...
But the Affordable Care Act has become to the right a symbolic totem that has little to do with actual policies. Its very existence is an enduring emotional wound. ...
The GOP is operating not on the basis of some analysis of public policy but from a sheer pathology.
Does everyone understand that? A willingness to merely alter Obamacare is a sign that you are concerned about policy. But, if you support the full repeal of Obamacare, you are pathological - i.e., mentally disturbed due to an emotional wound.

Honor Demands No Less

I thought the depravity of honor killings knew no bounds, but there was a case earlier this week in Bangladesh that tests that theorem:

The reports said Hena was raped by her 40-year-old relative Mahbub on Sunday. Next day, a fatwa was announced at a village arbitration that she must be given 100 lashes. She fell unconscious after nearly 80 lashes.
Fatally injured Hena was rushed to Naria health complex where she succumbed to her injuries.
This was not the act of a handful of enraged family members. The whole village was complicit in her torture and death.

However, I'm sure the honor of all involved was preserved. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

21st Century Blasphemy

While the Islamic world ponders how it may adapt itself with modernity while maintaining its religion, I would strongly advise they consider discontinuing this practice:
Muhammad Samiullah, 17, is under arrest in the southern city of Karachi.
He is accused of blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad in an examination paper.
The article doesn't reveal what was written in the boy's paper, but a culture confident in itself doesn't need blasphemy laws. For example, America reveres her flag, but allows it to be burned. Pakistan should show some confidence in their beliefs, and let the boy go home.