31 March 2007

No donkeys or elephants: Just roasted pig

The Dems were swept into office on the tide of disgust we all feel for the Bush administration--one of the most corrupt and inept administrations in the history of the U.S. But they're already busy showing how little they are different from the people they've replaced. The pork-filled bill on troop withdrawal is an excellent example. Since the American people (and the Iraqi people, for that matter) overwhelmingly support troops withdrawal, why not send a short, clear bill to the president to either sign or veto. If the Dems, with their majority, can't get the bill to pass, then leave that up to the voters--we'll write down the names of the pro-war Democrats and kick them out of office next time their terms come up. But the current wishy-washy bill doesn't do anything--except for demonstrate a lack of spine.

But what can we expect? Many of these Democrats were the ones who initially went along with the war and the Patriot Act in the first place. I suggest that when the next vote comes around, we all do our best to kick virtually every incumbent out of office. Both parties are clearly completely out of touch with the American voter and the world at large. And Hillary, who is already talking about keeping a lasting presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, is a non-starter.

28 March 2007

Retraction of My Pentagon Post

It's not often that Swerve Left issues an apology and retraction of a previous post, but today I'm afraid I must pause from my sinistral yawings and confess that I have gravely maligned a key American instititution. The target of my illfounded ire was the Pentagon, which has received trillions of U.S. tax dollars in recent years as part of a military budget that exceeds that of every other nation combined. Now I had previously assumed that the Pentagon had done little with this money except to fund American (er, I mean, Dubai-an) war-profiteers but I now have learned that these dollars have in fact been spent on a visionary project that exceeds even the imagination of the most extreme leftist. It appears that the Pentagon has been part of a secret project to create, on the surface of Saturn, an entire new military-industrial complex called (you already guessed it, didn't you) "the hexagon." A recent photo clearly shows the massive complex surrounded by an anti-missile forcefield.

A Pentagon, that is, a Hexagon spokesman explained the agencies recent move. "Those on the left keep claiming that we are not under threat, but they fail to appreciate the gravity of the situation--particularly, here on Saturn where we work under great pressure just to lift our bodies from the extreme forces of the planet. In spite of the gravity, the searing temperatures, and the ultimate cost overruns, we believe Saturn provides the type of security we need. Since the move, we have not suffered a single Iraqi commando attack and have moved beyond the threat of North Korean nukes. And while lying down on a hot Saturnian afternoon, there's nothing like the view of the rings while watching the Earth go down."

23 March 2007

The War on Drugs = A War on Facts

A table published in The Lancet medical journal, drawn up by a team of highly respected experts, shows that if drugs are classified by how much harm they do, alcohol should rank much higher that ecstacy. It's estimated that ecstasy kills around ten people annually of the half a million people who use it every weekend, while alcohol kills more than 300 annually by acute poisoning, and many tens of thousands by road traffic accidents, cirrhosis, gut and heart disease. It could also be mentioned that the study's comparing the use of black-market drugs (which are less pure) to commercially-produced alcohol. The results would be even stronger if the study compared moonshine to ecstacy.

22 March 2007

Where your tax dollars go.

Since this is the height of the tax season, I figured it would be nice to see how the government is allocating our tax dollars. Below is the recent pie-chart for discretionary spending.

As you can see, the Pentagon has a very nice slice of the pie at this point. Of course, we wouldn't want to be outrun by those massive military budgets of China, Russia, and North Korea! So let's see how we compare:

I had to make graph show up large in my post. If it were any smaller, the tiny green budgets of all of our major competitors wouldn't be visible. What can one say? This isn't a case where one has to enter into finely detailed analysis to explain the potential significance of a blip in statistical significance on a graph. The U.S. military is a bloated elephant sitting next to a couple fleas. One really has to wonder how astronomical the budget needs to get before Joe 6-pack in the conservative camp will finally conclude the budget is big enough. Historically, the U.S. is following in the footsteps of an interesting group of states: Nazi Germany, WWII Japan, the Soviet Union, and North Korea (who devotes every possible hour of man, child, or donkey labor to the fortification of its ever-withering nation). That's the federal budget, but most state budgets aren't much better. If you'd now like to see how your state tax dollars might be better spent, click here.

Have you bought your iRack yet?

Apple Computer has finally hit upon a sure-fire product: the iRack.

20 March 2007

Tortured logic

Among Khalid Sheik Mohammed's myriad confessions last week were claims that he had been tortured. We, The People, haven't heard much about these claims since the documents that Khalid submitted were immediately classified by the Pentagon as being Top Secret.

No doubt, there are various positions one can take on torture. Some, myself included, would rather not give secret groups of secret agents the right to secretly arrest, secretly imprison, and secretly torture anyone (Americans included) that happens to fall under these people's secret scrutiny. Others, confident that the process could never go too far astray with a Texan-talking God-fearin' true-blue leader in charge, say torture away. Hook up electrodes to teenagers suspected of auto-theft (e.g., the Iraqi in the famous picture) if it means getting some info to help spread American ways and means uber-alles.

So there are these two positions which, while diametrically opposed, at least have some internal consistency. But the idea that torture is right but must be kept top secret is complete idiocy. If torture were right, you'd think the U.S. government would want to brag about it. Between smirks and grimaces, Bush-the-decider should be taking great pride in the practice, telling us how his administration is pushing the science of torture to new heights. Why is the Pentagon trying to hide its "accomplishments"? Unless there's something in all of this to be ashamed of after all.

18 March 2007

To Mars and beyond!

The recent discovery of large deposits of almost pure ice on the Martian poles is exciting. Mars is extremely inhospitable, with a good Martian day looking like a warm day in Antarctica (minus the fish and the breathable atmosphere). Even so, the discovery vastly raises the odds of human beings being able to create self-sustainable colonies on Mars at some point in the not-to-distant future.

We need to stop throwing so much money away on things like Operation Iraqi Liberation and work harder at setting up some pockets of human habitation away from the Earth. In addition to the practical ends of such a mission, few historical accomplishments (except for the discovery of intelligent extraterrestial life) could have such repercussions on human consciousness. It's an exciting thought: we could be looking out into space knowing that we were out there. And this is one place where we could put our knowledge of how to induce global warming to good use!

17 March 2007

Four Years

We're approaching the fourth anniversary of what was once called "Shrub's War" but is now called (even by those in the Pentagon) "the Iraqi civil war". The decider-in-chief continues to call on Congress and the American people to not get too involved. In short, just keep sending in those blank checks: the decider-in-chief will figure out where the money needs to go.

The "plan for victory" hasn't changed much, but the rhetoric has. We're no longer told that victory is "just around the corner", but there is still this talk about "victory". What victory would mean in Iraq's case one can only imagine. Are we hoping that the Sunnis will wipe out all of the Shiites in the center of the country and set up another totalitarian state vicious enough to control all of Iraq? (Hopefully, they still have Saddam on ice, if this is the plan). Or does the long-awaited victory mean that Shiite militias finally drive the Sunnis into the desert and set-up a pro-Iranian psuedo-religious state? Neither option looks much like "victory" to me. The more likely option, I suppose, is that Iraq becomes a balkanized, failed state with each individual apartment block guarded by some warring militia. In either case, the expiry date on Bush's Pax Amerikana is up. It's time for Bush to declare "mission accomplished" and bring the troops home.

16 March 2007

It pays to have friends.

I saw this over at Glen Dean's site. (To Glen's credit, he has mentioned this in spite of his normal predilection for criticizing the Dems.)

For those of you who might be interested in a real scandal, as opposed to one created out of the air, you might want to check this out. Apparently, the Corps of Engineers spent 26.6 million on some crappy water pumps that were built by a company owned by a former business partner of Jeb Bush. Luckily, the last hurricane season was mild. Something stinks!
MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. And Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"The decision to use these guys was not political; there was no connection there," said Frederick Young, a former Corps project manager who oversaw much of the work with the pumps.

When the decision was made to go to larger-diameter hydraulic pumps on the canals, MWI was the only "manufacturer that was agreeable to our timetable" of getting the pumps in place by June 1, Young said. Young said he had recommended using dozens of smaller pumps that had already been proven to work.

13 March 2007

Cherry-picked facts and rotten cherries

In a few weeks, some no-name British tabloid journalist will make his fortune saying that global warming is actually caused by the holy aura emanating from the cracks in Jesus's tomb. Until then, we'll have to content ourselves with the standard fare of martian invasions, dead-Elvis sightings, and rebuttals of global warming. The internets are currently buzzing about The Great Global Warming Swindle--a documentary supposedly showing that global warming is just a figment of some pot-head leftist's imagination, foisted on us by the mean greenies who don't have anything better to do with their weekends.

Unfortunately, the "facts" the film uses have all been refuted at this point in scientific journals. In some cases, even the original scientists who published the original articles have come out and explicitly stated that they were wrong. (As anyone familiar with academia knows, academics, much like anyone else, only confess mistakes after a great deal of kicking and screaming brought on by large mountains of problematic data.) George Monbiot has written an excellent point-by-point rubuttal of the documentary, along with footnotes:

Channel 4’s Problem with Science
Posted March 13, 2007
It doesn’t give a damn about whether the facts stack up – as long as it creates a controversy.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 13th March 2007.

Were it not for dissent, science, like politics, would have stayed in the Dark Ages. All the great heroes of the discipline – Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein – took tremendous risks in confronting mainstream opinion. Today’s crank has often proved to be tomorrow’s visionary.

But the syllogism does not apply. Being a crank does not automatically make you a visionary. There is little prospect, for example, that Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister who has claimed that AIDS can be treated with garlic, lemon and beetroot, will one day be hailed as a genius. But the point is often confused. Professor David Bellamy, for example, while making the incorrect claim that wind farms do not have “any measurable effect” on total emissions of carbon dioxide, has compared himself to Galileo(1).

The problem with “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, which caused a sensation when it was broadcast on Channel 4 last week, is that to make its case it relies not on future visionaries, but on people whose findings have already been proved wrong. The implications could not be graver. Just as the British government launches its climate change bill and Gordon Brown and David Cameron start jostling to establish their green credentials, thousands of people have been misled into believing that there is no problem to address.
The film’s main contention is that the current increase in global temperatures is caused not by rising greenhouse gases, but by changes in the activity of the Sun. It is built around the discovery in 1991 by the Danish atmospheric physicist Dr Eigil Friis-Christensen that recent temperature variations on earth are in “strikingly good agreement” with the length of the cycle of sunspots(2).

Unfortunately, he found nothing of the kind. A paper published in the journal Eos in 2004 reveals that the “agreement” was the result of “incorrect handling of the physical data”(3). The real data for recent years show the opposite: that the length of the sunspot cycle has in fact declined, while temperatures have risen. When this error was exposed, Friis-Christensen and his co-author published a new paper, purporting to produce similar results(4). But this too turned out to be an artefact of mistakes they had made – in this case in their arithmetic(5).

So Friis-Christensen and another author developed yet another means of demonstrating that the Sun is responsible, claiming to have discovered a remarkable agreement between cosmic radiation influenced by the Sun and global cloud cover(6). This is the mechanism the film proposes for global warming. But, yet again, the method was exposed as faulty. They had been using satellite data which did not in fact measure global cloud cover. A paper in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics shows that when the right data are used, a correlation is not found(7).

So the hypothesis changed again. Without acknowledging that his previous paper was wrong, Friis-Christensen’s co-author, Henrik Svensmark, declared that there was in fact a correlation – not with total cloud cover but with “low cloud cover”(8). This too turned out to be incorrect(9). Then, last year, Svensmark published a paper purporting to show that cosmic rays could form tiny particles in the atmosphere(10). Accompanying it was a press release which went way beyond the findings reported in the paper, claiming it showed that both past and current climate events are the result of cosmic rays(11).

As Dr Gavin Schmidt of NASA has shown on www.realclimate.org, five missing steps would have to be taken to justify the wild claims in the press release. “We’ve often criticised press releases that we felt gave misleading impressions of the underlying work”, Schmidt says, “but this example is by far the most blatant extrapolation-beyond-reasonableness that we’ve seen.”(12) None of this seems to have troubled the programme makers, who report the cosmic ray theory as if it trounces all competing explanations.

The film also maintains that manmade global warming is disproved by conflicting temperature data. Professor John Christy speaks about the discrepancy he discovered between temperatures at the earth’s surface and temperatures in the troposphere (or lower atmosphere). But the programme fails to mention that in 2005 his data were proved wrong, by three papers in Science magazine(13,14,15).

Christy himself admitted last year that he was mistaken. He was one of the lead authors of a paper which states the opposite of what he says in the film. “Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human-induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected.”(16)

Until recently, when found to be wrong, scientists went quietly back to their labs to start again. Now, emboldened by the global denial industry, some of them, like the film makers, shriek “censorship!” This is the best example of manufactured victimhood I have ever come across. If you demonstrate that someone is wrong, you are now deemed to be silencing him. But there is one scientist in the film whose work has not been debunked: the oceanographer Carl Wunsch. He appears to support the idea that increasing carbon dioxide is not responsible for rising global temperatures. Professor Wunsch says that he was “completely misrepresented” by the programme, and “totally misled” by the people who made it(17).

This is a familiar story to those who have followed the career of the director, Martin Durkin. In 1998 the Independent Television Commission found that, when making a similar series, he had “misled” his interviewees about “the content and purpose of the programmes”. Their views had been “distorted through selective editing”(18). Channel 4 had to make a prime-time apology.

Cherry-pick your results, choose work which is already outdated and discredited, and anything and everything becomes true. The Twin Towers were brought down by controlled explosions; MMR injections cause autism; homeopathy works; black people are less intelligent than white people; species came about through intelligent design. You can find lines of evidence which appear to support all these contentions, and, in most cases, professors who will speak up in their favour. But this does not mean that any of them are correct. You can sustain a belief in these propositions only by ignoring the overwhelming body of contradictory data. To form a balanced, scientific view, you have to consider all the evidence, on both sides of the question. But for the people who commissioned this film, all that counts is the sensation.

Channel 4 has always had a problem with science. No one in its science unit appears to understand the difference between a peer-reviewed scientific paper and a clipping from the Daily Mail. It keeps commissioning people whose claims have been discredited – like Martin Durkin and a certain nutritionist of our acquaintance. But its failure to understand the scientific process just makes the job of whipping up a storm that much easier. The less true a programme is, the greater the controversy.

1. David Bellamy, 14th August 2004. An ill wind blows for turbines. Letter to the Guardian.
2. Eigil Friis-Christensen and Knud Lassen, 1991. Length of the solar cycle: an indicator of solar activity closely associated with climate. Science, Vol 254, 698-700.
3. Paul Damon and Peter Laut, 2004. Pattern of Strange Errors Plagues Solar Activity and Terrestrial Climate Data. Eos, Vol. 85, No. 39.
4. Knud Lassen and Eigil Friis-Christensen, 2000. Reply to “Solar cycle lengths and climate: A reference revisited” by P. Laut and J.Gundermann. Journal of Geophysical Research Vol 105, No 27, 493-495.
5. Paul Damon and Peter Laut, ibid.
6. Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen, 1997. Variation of cosmic ray flux and global cloud coverage: A missing link in solar-climate relationships. The Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Vol 59, 1225-1232.
7. Peter Laut, 2003. Solar activity and terrestrial climate: an analysis of some purported correlations. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics Vol 65, 801-812.
8. Nigel Marsh and Henrik Svensmark, 2000. Low cloud properties influenced by cosmic rays. Physical Review Letters Vol 85, no 23. 5004-5007.
9. Paul Damon and Peter Laut, ibid.
10. Henrik Svensmark et al, 2007. Experimental evidence for the role of ions in particle nucleation under atmospheric conditions. Proceedings of the Royal Society Volume 463, Number 2078, 1364-5021.
11. Danish National Space centre, October 2006. Getting closer to the cosmic connection to climate.
12. Gavin Schmidt, 16th October 2006. Taking Cosmic Rays for a spin. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/10/taking-cosmic-rays-for-a-spin/
13. Carl A. Mears and Frank J. Wentz, 2nd September 2005. The Effect of Diurnal Correction on Satellite-Derived Lower Tropospheric Temperature. Science. Vol 309, pp1548-1551.
14. B.D. Santer et al, 2nd September 2005. Amplification of Surface Temperature Trends and Variability in the Tropical Atmosphere. Science. Vol 309, pp1548-1551.
15. Steven J. Sherwood, John R. Lanzante and Cathryn L. Meyer, 2nd September 2005. Radiosonde Daytime Biases and Late-20th Century Warming. Science. Vol 309, pp1556-1559.
16. Tom Wigley et al, April 2006. Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere – Understanding and Reconciling Differences: Executive Summary. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program.
17. Geoffrey Lean, 11th March 2007. An inconvenient truth… for C4. Independent on Sunday.
18. Independent Television Commission, 1st April 1998. Channel 4 to apologise to four interviewees in “Against Nature” series. Press release.

10 March 2007

David Rovics

David Rovics has an excellent selection of free acoustic songs (MP3 format) on thoughtful political themes. The site even offers the lyrics along with a short summary of the songs' inspiration.

All the DC ladies love Newt!

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has just acknowledged that he was having an extramarital affair even as he led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. This is all very disconcerting. Newt is evil but he's at least coherent and knows which fork to use at the million-dollar fundraisers. His handlers have obviously been falling down on the job! I suggest that we on the left (which is pretty much everyone, relative to Newt) step in and try to help him out here. What excuses should Newt offer as he explains himself during the next Fox News interview? Any suggestions?

9 March 2007

Here and across the Pond

What's happening in Europe these days?

E.U. leaders agreed Friday to ignore America's lead (sic!) and adopt binding targets to push renewable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All 27 EU leaders have agreed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, to raise the share of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass energy to 20 percent of the body`s overall energy consumption by 2020, and to set the goal for biofuels to 10 percent of automobile fuel by the same date.

What's happening in the U.S.?

George-the-decider Bush has been down in South America encouraging South Americans to persue an independent energy policy and cut down on fossil fuels. (No, not the George Bush that we know, but his bizarro opposite twin who suddenly appears in the southern hemisphere whenever there's high sun-spot activity.) Closer to home, the FBI, having decided that the carte blanche provided by the Patriot Act is not enough, has fessed up to violating legal protections (what few protections remain!) during its surveillance of telephone, business, and financial records.

Ah, living in the good ol' U.S. of A. It's like sitting on a raft on a lazy afternoon, watching the whole world go by as the raft slowly sinks.

7 March 2007

Those phone calls in the night

WaPo: Six fired U.S. attorneys testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs.

In back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House, former U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico and five other former prosecutors recounted specific instances in which some said they felt pressured by Republicans on corruption cases and one said a Justice Department official warned him to keep quiet or face retaliation.

Why does coverage of the White House and related news keep reminded me more and more of reruns of the Sopranos? We really need to put the main culprits like Bush and Cheney in prison and put their underlings and coconspirators in jail for their collusion with a known criminal organization.

A mirror that needs cleaning...

Der Spiegal has an absolutely idiotic article titled "Does Communism Work After All?" based on the premise that China is a communist country. If self-proclamations are all it takes to "be" something, then North Korea is a democracy and Bush's America is a non-interventionist state.

6 March 2007

"May even be criminal..."

How would you feel if you were the 18-year-old kid whose leg had just been blown off for the sake of a plan that even conservative Republicans are describing as "insane"-- a plan that the top military commander believes has only a "one in four chance" of succeeding?

From the Oregonian:

Smith's public comments on the war have grown increasingly complex and controversial in recent months. The Republican senator made national headlines in December when he gave a speech on the Senate floor, saying Bush's war policy is "absurd" and "may even be criminal." Since then he has strongly opposed President Bush's call for a "surge" of 20,000 troops in Iraq. Smith was one of 14 senators to vote last month against the nomination of Gen. George Casey as U.S. Army chief of staff.

"If you're really going to do a surge, you don't do it with 20,000, you do it with 250,000," he said, noting that Baghdad is a city of nearly 7 million people. But he said the United States cannot afford such a response; instead it has to come from the Iraqi Army.

Smith said he recently spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, the new top military commander in Iraq, who told him the troop surge has only a one in four chance of succeeding.