Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

C'est Non

Hi All,

The French have voted "non" on the EU constitution by a vote of 55% to 45%. By doing so they have disrupted the current version of the EU constitution but that's about all. Despite the widespread alarmism in the media about the possibility of a "non" vote, this vote has much to do with domestic French politics and will ultimately have only moderate effect on the EU as an institution. One thing is certain, this was not a vote to withdraw from the EU. I've heard many people declare that it is. I even heard a Professor from the French department tell his students a no vote would mean that France would withdraw from the EU and that this would therefore be a "blow against global capitalism." Well folks, that's why you shouldn't let French professors teach political science courses.

Another misconception is that this was the first referendum to be held. Spain has already ratified the constitution by referendum and a number of other member states, including Germany and Italy, have ratified it through parliamentary votes.

There are a number of factors that observers in Europe believe led to the no vote. Only a few have anything to do with the realities of France's relationship to the European Union. Some voters voted no because they think that the EU is a capitalist conspiracy. Others voted no because they think the EU is a socialist conspiracy. Still others voted no because they are nationalists who oppose any international cooperation on principle. And many voted no simply to humiliate a deeply unpopular President Chirac (who supported it along with the leaders of all three of the largest parties in France). From my point of view this says that the real story behind this no vote is one of protest.

France has suffered for years from chronicly bad government. Its entire welfare state is structured around archaic and inefficient professional priviledges that are jealously guarded by unions and professional associations that go out on strike at the drop of a hat. Other countries have far more efficient welfare states that are at least as generous (Denmark comes to mind). French voters are rightly upset about the stagnation of their economy. And their no vote is an expression of that general "malaise."

However, in my opinion, blaming the EU for that malaise is too easy a way out. There are too many other EU member states that have better economic performance and have been members for just as long to claim that the EU is the cause of their stagnation.

Comments? Post Mortems? (Posts Mortem??)


Saturday, May 28, 2005

The European Union Constitution and France

Voting has started in French overseas departments for the referendum to approve or reject the European Union's constitutional treaty. The polls in France have been bouncing around 50-50 for weeks now. It is anybody's guess what the result will be.

However, what is fairly clear is that there has been a great deal of needless alarmism about the consequences of a "non" victory. Many people are hinting that a "non" vote in France means that France will be pulling out of the EU. Nonsense! If France votes no, the result will be a lot of handwringing and harrumphing followed by a renegotiation of the constitution probably with more handouts for the French (look for increased agricultural subsidies especially). In the meantime, the EU will continue to muddle along with the Treaty of Nice.

Since this blog is all about the windbaggery I would be remiss if I didn't tell everyone how I think the French should vote. I think they vote "Oui." The EU has been a good thing for France on a variety of levels (subsidies for uncompetitive French farmers, access to markets for French products, access to products from the rest of Europe, oh, and peace). If you acknowledge that the EU has been a net positive for France, then "oui" versus "non" is a question of the institutional relationships established in the constitution and the kind of "good government" questions that come up in a more mundane debate. The legislative procedures remain complicated and give many avenues for minority interests (including individual member state governments) to protect their interests against the tyranny of the majority. The document is ridiculously long. The European constitutional drafters seem never to have read the American or German constitutions, or if they did they didn't get that don't need 300 plus pages of detail built into your constitution.

That said, the new constitution does set up institutional rules (especially voting rules in the Council of Ministers - the body representing the member state governments) that can accommodate new members without requiring renegotiation of the entire document every time a new country joins. For that reason alone this document is a huge improvement over the early treaties.

Any Europeans out there? Europhiles? Europhobes? Tell us what you think.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democratic Victory

Plainly, this is a victory for Democrats, in interpreting "advice and consent" as a great role for the Senate. Implicit is that the Senate may also give consent under its own rules, whatever they may be, and there is no requirement that a President "get his nominees."
Read the conclusion (emphasis added):

"We Believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive Branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Such a return to the early practice of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate seek to uphold.


Why The Filibuster Matters and Republican Rhetoric

In a recent comment, US West wondered if any of this fuss over the filibuster really matters. That reminded me that I've been meaning to post something about just why it does matter for a while but haven't gotten around to it.

US West's question is also related to something that's been annoying about the Republican rhetoric about "up or down votes." A filibuster is an up or down vote, its just that its a way to make the voting requirement 3/5 instead of 1/2. All this talk about the Democrats preventing an "up or down vote" is smoke screen. Preventing votes is what the Republicans did by killing nominees in committee. What the Democrats were doing is forcing a voting rule of 3/5 instead of 1/2. It's still a vote it just requires more votes...votes Bush and Frist couldn't get.

So why does this matter? If the voting threshold for a judicial nominee is 3/5, the President must appoint someone who will at least get the indifferent support of a half a dozen Democrats. If the voting rule is 1/2, the President doesn't even need every Republican. This is especially important when the median Senate Democrat and the median Senate Republican are very polarized ideologically. If the President can turn a judicial nomination into a negotiation between himself and Bill Frist (R-TN) or even Allen (R-VA), you will see much different nominees than if it were a negotiation between Bush and Byrd (D-WV) or even Specter (R-PA).

Priscilla Owen was confirmed today as part of a deal struck by 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans whereby, Democrats get to keep the filibuster so long as they promise not to use it except under "extraordinary" circumstances. The vote was 56 Yea, 43 Nay and 1 Not Voting. Owen would not have passed under 3/5. Two Democrats, Byrd (D-WV) and Landrieu (D-LA), broke with their party to vote for Owen. No Republicans voted against Owen. This vote result may shed light on why the 7 Democrats agreed to the deal in the first place. They may have seen that their support for defending the filibuster at least with regard to Owen was shakey.

Another thing that annoys me about the Republican rhetoric on this issue is the insistence that the filibuster is a "tyranny of the minority." They will be shown to be the cynical liars that they are soon. The House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing funding for embryonic stem cell research by a vote of 238 to 194. But President Bush says he'll veto the bill if it passes the Senate. How does this comply with the new found Republican admiration for unrestricted majority rule? The Presidential veto, like the Senate filibuster rule, and the bicameral Congress itself, are all designed to give minority interests ways to block the rule of the majority!

Yet again, we see the Republicans counting on the apathy and ignorance of the population to let them get away with contradicting themselves within a 72 hour time frame! Democrats are allowing this to happen by not jumping up and down like lunatics pointing at Frist and Bush and saying how they are contradicting their own principles for the sake of political convenience. I suspect the reason the Democrats are not doing that is because they believe that their political opponents have a right to use the institutions to protect their own interests - an opinion Republicans unfortunately do not share.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"Who do you think could pressure me?"

When Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of the prime movers behind the last-minute Centrist compromise that averted a showdown in the Senate today, was asked by a reporter whether he had been pressured by those who opposed any compromise, he laughed and said, "Who do you think could pressure me?" Then he turned and began walking away slowly with his cane. A marvelous symbol of one of Plato's Guardians of the Republic, to be sure... but on the other hand, an old leader, accountable to no one, (and colluding with a few other power-brokers to thwart the will of the majority party) is about as un-Democratic as you can get.

This got me to thinking about Republics and Democracies... as did a certain recent film I saw twice on opening day. Warning: this post is about to get ve-e-e-ery geeky!

If any of my fellow geeks want to understand the difference between a Republic and a Democracy--a distinction I once wrongly thought to be idle wordplay--then I encourage them to watch Episodes I, II, and III of Star Wars and listen closely to George Lucas' astoundingly bad dialogue on the subject. It teaches by bad example.

There's a particularly hilarious scene in Episode II wherein a clique of richly becostumed dignitaries make arbitrary decisions concerning the fate of millions, and then the elected Queen (!) concludes with a short, trite speech about how they love "democracy." And in Episode III, when Mace Windu suggests that the Jedi Council (an elite body to which only people with special blood may be appointed) lead a coup against the elected Senate in order to preserve "democracy," I almost fell out of my chair. Search these three films as you may, and you will find that the will of the great unwashed masses has no place in the Council of Naboo, the Council of Jedi, or the Senate of the Republic. The only place you see the masses are when they are wildly cheering the procession of nobility at the conclusion of Episode I.

The only philosophy George Lucas really nails is fascism. When Chancellor Palpatine declares, "I am the Senate!" in Episode III, (l'etat c'est moi?), he illustrates facism from the leader's viewpoint. When Anakin argues that giving more power to the executive is good because it can only bring "less deliberation and more action," we see it from the viewpoint of the apprentice. And when Padme says sadly, "So this is how liberty dies. To thunderous applause," she shows the spectator's view well too.

Yet I think George Lucas in his naivete has shown us something about America, if we choose to see it. We love the thought of electing wise Guardians to rule us; we disdain the practice of pandering to majority rule (and god forbid we should actually take any responsibility for our own self-governance). We applaud and respect leaders who do what they think is right, regardless of what the polls tell them the people wish them to do. Our best-respected public officials are not the ones we elect, but rather the judges and justices we let be appointed to life terms. We are believers in a Republic, not democracy. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

We speak platitudes about democracy but we desire a Republic in our hearts. This central contradiction in our high school civics classes leaves us confused and incapable of formulating a consistent philosophy that can stand up to the allure of fascism. Liberals and conservatives sense the desire to be Guardians in one another, and so label each other elitists, failing to recognize that elitism is a necesssary part of a Republic. It's time we talked frankly about our real political views, and embrace our Republic.

Perhaps if the Galactic Senate had been populated by stubborn old bulls like Senator Robert Byrd rather than Jar Jar Binks, Chancellor Palpatine might not have had such an easy time convincing the Senators to vote away their legislative powers. That would have been one hell of a filibuster. On the other hand, Senator Byrd's delivery could test the patience of Yoda.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Wait a Second? Who Just Blinked?

Hi Everyone,

A group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans have announced a deal that they think could avert the so called "nuclear option" whereby the Republicans would try to end the filibuster rules for judicial appointees. CNN has a description of the deal here. The basics are that the seven Democrats would vote to end debate on Brown, Pryor and Owen and that the seven Republicans would vote to preserve the filibuster. There are other details that I haven't read yet and I thought I would leave that to one of several lawyers who are either members of this blog or friends who post comments frequently. I guess I'll have to watch the News Hour on PBS to get the tutorial on the full deal.

In the mean time: Who just blinked?


Germany Land Elections

Hi Everyone,

Germany is a federal system, and the constituent provinces are called Lander. The Land of Nordrhein- Westfalen had an election yesterday. The Social Democrats (SPD) have not lost an election there in 39 years. But they lost yesterday. The Christian Democrats (CDU) won big there. This is a very industrial, very urban Land so it's very surprising that the CDU won. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) is now presiding over a coalition of SPD and Green that has lost all 10 Land elections since the national elections last year. In response to this latest setback, Schroeder has called new elections which the CDU is expected to win. You can read the BBC.Com story here. You can read the story from Die Zeit here.

Schroeder narrowly won the national election last year by taking a very anti-American stance. His party has done a terrible job, however, fixing structural economic problems that have built up over the decades. So Schroeder won last year using anti-American feelings to compensate for economic stagnation. Now, those problems are overwhelming any differences between the CDU and SPD on foreign policy.

Does this represent a march to the right in Germany? Probably not. The reasons people are voting against the SPD are things like SPD cuts in welfare benefits, persistent high unemployment and layoffs. If people vote for the CDU instead of the SPD, it would be impossible for the CDU to claim a mandate for right wing economic policy. Indeed, the CDU has always had a strong faction supporting the welfare state. And the modern German welfare state was established largely by CDU led governments. Experts all agree that the German welfare system is in need of immediate reform. However, the diffused institutional structure of German government (much like the American government) makes such big reforms very difficult. The SPD has been beating its head against the wall on this for years and it seems it will soon be the CDU's turn again.

Bush supporters may be getting ready to say "See Blair supported the US invasion of Iraq and he's still in power and Schroeder opposed it and he's losing power!" But it would be more accurate to say that both the British and German elections show that voters are primarily concerned with local issues. So Blair's party retained their majority (narrowly) despite Blair's support for the war and Schroeder's party has lost in Nordrhein-Westfalen despite Schroeder's opposition to it.



Thursday, May 19, 2005

Kerry on the filibuster

Not everyone liked Kerry, or thought he was the best presidential candidate. But boy, he knows how to write a speech. Check out his thoughts on the filibuster.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Latino Mayor In Los Angeles

Hi Everyone,

Well, if there were shady dealings going on yesterday in LA's mayoral election, they failed. Hahn lost despite trucks full of ballots breaking down at fictitious intersections near the airport. Rosendahl won in the 11th council district despite precincts being poorly served by untrained polling people. These two elections are defeats for two entrenched interests: white conservatives in the Valley and real estate developers (a group of developers who want to pave a local coastal wetland backed Rosendahl's opponent). I'd paste in a bunch of links but the LA Times website is just over there on the right and the news is being updated frequently.

Now in the grand tradition of burying the lead...Antonio Villaraigosa is the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles since the 1800s! But don't fear you English First types! Villaraigosa speaks English at home and made a number of embarrassing mistakes with his Spanish during the campaign. Sure, he makes a big show of over pronouncing Spanish words and names but I think that's mostly affectation.

Villaraigosa's campaign built a broad multi-ethnic coalition in a diverse but surprisingly segregated city. Hahn's Anglophone only coalition shattered when he alienated Black voters by firing the Black police chief (Bernard Parks). Villaraigosa had the support not only of Latinos but Persians, White liberals, Asians and many Black voters. I'm tempted to reference exit polls from the LA Times but Law Talking Guy's report of the poll methods is good reason not to.

So, LTG, did you ever get to vote?


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Electoral Tampering in Los Angeles?

So I tried to vote this morning (I'm an Angeleno) and the polling place had NO BALLOTS. Not even a provisional ballot. The owner of the polling place urged me to go to another polling place a few blocks away. Of course, you can't do that. The LA Times had an exit poll worker there who was horrified and scolded the owner. After 20 minutes of waiting, with voters leaving in disgust, the owner said that the City had called and said that "the truck broke down at Lincoln and Century." I left without casting a ballot.

The truck broke down!? The dog ate my ballot? There are also stories that ballots were stolen in East Los Angeles, a Latino area of the City. Here's the bottom line: The LA Federation of Labor is heavily pulling for Hahn, including (wait for it) the public employees union and the teamsters. You know, ballots and trucks. Question: is any of this happening in the San Fernando Valley (which is Hahn's stronghold now)? I doubt it.

At lunchtime I'm driving back home and try to vote again.


Oil For Food Hypocrisy

Hi Everyone,

Just a little highlight of the oil for food drama. The Republicans in Congress have been holding hearings on this with a definite plan to smear the U.N., Russian politicians, French Politicians and British politicians who opposed the war in Iraq. However, the hearings have become increasingly partisan and controversial. Read this story on about the Democratic minority report on the issue. The Democrats charge that American oil companies were deeply involved in the corruption and that Bush administration Viceroy, Bremmer, lost $9 billion in Iraqi funds and over a year ago and has yet to give any indication of where it went.

This is another example of how the fact that the Democrats are in the minority limits their ability to oversee and constrain Bush administration abuses of power. These hearings on the oil for food corruption now are giving a "get out of jail free card" to Bush administration officials and their cronies in the oil industry but making damning charges against everyone else. The same hearings lead by a Democratic majority would be far different.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Films With Political Messages

Hi Everyone,

Recently one our friends, Seventh Sister, mentioned the film "Inherit The Wind" in relation to the "intelligent design" debate. It got me thinking about other movies with political messages. I'm not talking about the obvious stuff like Michael Moore's films or the right wing film "Stolen Honor" accusing John Kerry of "betrayal." These movies were presented as documentaries but were pretty much straight propaganda and can be easily identified as such. I'm thinking of films like "Inherit The Wind" that have a political message through fiction. This posting will post some films I think of as being particularly political. This isn't intended as anything other than a starting point for discussion about politics in film. I hope our friends on Babblog won't be offended if I infringe on their turf a bit. I'll now make a list of films I think are at least prominent examples of political fiction in film and encourage you all to suggest films yourselves.

Inherit The Wind: This is a fictionalized account of the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial. I think it is an interesting portrayal of the culture war of the early 20th century. Democrats are shown to be split between modernists like the Darrow like Henry Drummand (Spencer Tracy) and religious populists like Matthew Harrison Brady, based on William Jennings Bryan (played by Frederic March). The arcerbic intellectual E.K. Hornbeck, based on H.L. Mencken (played by Gene Kelly), is a libertarian Republican from the big city who looks down on the traditionalist fervor of the local mob. I think this film is interesting in that it shows how much the political alliances have changed in the last 100 years. An added fun fact: Dick York of Bewitched fame plays the part of the high school biology teacher on trial for teaching that humans evolved from apes and Harry Morgan (Col. Potter from the TV show MASH) plays the judge.

The Green Berets: If you want to see what Republicans think about the war in Vietnam, see this movie. John Wayne plays his usual character in this over the top good guys versus commies action film. Added fun fact: the actors who played Lt. Sulu in Star Trek and Detective Nick Yemana in Barney Miller both play South Vietnamese army officers in the movie.

We Were Soldiers: This movie starring Mel Gibson is not quite as ridiculous as The Green Berets but there is a definite one sided "Americans are always good guys" vibe to this. It's like the right wing version of political correctness.

Pelle Eroberen: This Danish movie by director Bille August stars Max von Sydow as a Swedish farm laborer working on a Danish plantation in the late 19th century. This is interesting as a good presentation of the European left's view of their own history. The movie is based on a novel by a Danish communist who emigrated to East Germany in the 1940s.

The Deer Hunter: This is one of my favorite films. It depicts how a group of friends from small steel town in western Pennsylvania copes with Vietnam and its consequences. The cast alone should make you want to see this film (De Niro, Streep, Walken, Cazale)! I think this film is a good movie to see for the kind of "limousine liberals" who so often have trouble understanding working class nationalism. It's a good movie for working class nationalists to see because it depicts the raw deal men get when they buy into nationalism and sign up to go to war. Finally, the movie is set in the kind of European ethnic community that most people on the West Coast at least are completely ignorant of.

In The Heat Of The Night: Before it was 2nd rate TV series this was a 1st rate movie! Sidney Poitier plays a detective from Philadelphia who is first arrested for and then asked to investigate a murder in a small Mississippi town.

Judgment at Nuremburg: Another court room drama starring Spencer Tracy this time with Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schell and Marlene Dietrich. This one is a great depiction of the dangers of nationalism and the slow erosion of liberty. It is particular damning in the end of apolitical people's excuses for their failure to oppose tyranny and injustice. Added fun fact: The cast includes the guy who played Col. Klink as a NAZI judge and William Shatner as a U.S. military court clerk.

I've intentionally left out a number of films I could have posted about because I know that some of the Citizens and our friends like them and I'll leave it to them to give their political reviews of them.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Bush Strategy: Lie and Harm Those Who Tell The Truth

From Today's wire services:

"The proposed new war spending for fiscal 2006, which starts Oct. 1, would push the cost of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath toward $250 billion, far ahead of initial expectations voiced by the Bush administration. Before the invasion, then-White House economic advisor Larry Lyndsey said a conflict with Iraq could cost $100 billion to $200 billion. Then-budget director Mitch Daniels dismissed Lindsey's figures as too high. Lindsey resigned in December 2002."

This is exactly what happened to General Shinseki.

Democrats need to start telling the public every day about this pattern of deliberate deception.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Preview of the Republican Judiciary

In case you thought that the Senate fillibuster didn't matter or in case you think that far right judges will be restrained and respect the views of those who disagree with them, here is a wake up call for you. This story has been around the blogs for a while but I just heard about on NPR this morning.

NPR is reporting that a judge in Washington state has refused to allow a woman to divorce her husband (who is in jail for drug charges and has been convicted of beating the woman) because she is pregnant. The husband did not contest the divorce but the judge interferred because, he argued, the state had an interest in seeing that children are not "illegitimized." Democrats in the Washington state legislature have since passed a law specifically allowing pregnant women to get divorced.

Comments anyone?


Bush's Rush to War: The View From Whitehall

Hi Everyone,

An internal memo discussion the US rush to war has been leaked in London. The Times of London got a hold of the memo and has published it here. The memo is a report from a British Government official intended to brief the Prime Minister and other ministers. Highlights include a report that Bush administration officials were basing their timing of military operations around the U.S. Congressional elections (supporting claims by Democrats that Republicans were using the war for political purposes), that intelligence was "being fixed" by Bush administration officials to make it better conform to their justification for war. Despite recognizing these weaknesses in the Bush case, the Blair government was working on the assumption that British troops would participate right from the start.

CNN is reporting that 89 Democrats in Congress have written a letter to President Bush insisting that he explain the memo. I would point out here that if the Democrats had a majority, or if the President doing this stuff were a Democrat, we would be having impeachment hearings now if not back in 2003.

The facts reported in the memo are not new or really surprising. However, their source is new. The quality and quantity of evidence supporting the accusations that Bush was committed to war for political purposes rather than national security concerns is growing. Only the Republican majority in the Congress is preventing a major political fight over this.

Any comments?


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Understanding Global Warming

There is a lot of confusion about what is known about global climate change. Some "misunderstandings" are deliberate—-some people stubbornly refuse to believe any fact they wish were not true—-but I will leave the dissection of such political controversies to my esteemed colleagues on this blog. Instead I will concentrate on the scientific misconceptions, many of which are due to the loose use of terms or the conflation of similar but distinct ideas.

1. There have been changes in the composition of Earth’s atmosphere over the past 150 years: TRUE. The most famous example is the 20% rise in the average concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere over the past 50 years, as measured hourly (!) by the Mauna Loa observatory. The increase in CO2 concentration has been gradually accelerating over time, and the measurements are confirmed by similar experiments performed at remote locations around the globe, from Alaska to Antarctica. Measurements of CO2 concentrations for earlier centuries are available from ice core samples taken from around the world. Together, the ice cores and the direct atmospheric observations show unambiguously that the increase in CO2 began in the mid-1800s after having been stable for a thousand years. Furthermore, scientists have measured the interglacial fluctuations in CO2 levels over a much longer period and current levels well exceed any previously known level for at least the past 420,000 years.

2. Humans have been responsible for increase in CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere: TRUE. We can measure the amount of emissions of CO2 due to changes in agricultural land use and from burning fossil fuels. Data is available for industrial emissions for over two centuries. The figures are consistent with the observed rise in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Approximately 1/3 of the increase has been due to changes in land use, and the other 2/3 from fossil fuels.

3. Sufficient increase in the CO2 concentration will cause global warming: TRUE. Every single model of global climate change indicates that this is the case, and we have the planet Venus to look at as an example. Scientists differ in their predictions of how much of an increase is required to trigger catastrophic warming, largely due to the existence of many other influences on atmospheric temperature (including solar output, and perhaps unknown factors), and the sensitivity to positive and negative feedback in the system. So we know that a sufficient increase will cause global climate change, but we are not sure quite how much is sufficient. Even the Republican-led EPA agrees.

4. Global warming has occurred over the past century: TRUE. Yes, even the EPA agrees that we know "for certain" that at least 1 degree (F) of global warming has occurred since the 19th century (they also concur with the man-made increase in CO2). All agree that warming has occurred over both hemispheres, and over land and sea. However, large annual and even decade-long variances are quite normal, as are differences in the trends for sea temperatures, and temperatures in the troposphere vs. the stratosphere. You have to look long-term and broadly to see the full trend—but when you do, the trend is unmistakable. Tree rings, ice core samples, and many other scientific methods confirm that the recent, rapid increase in temperature is significant and unusual, at least since the last Ice Age ended, and possibly for much longer.

5. Humans are responsible for the global warming that has occurred over the past century: LIKELY. We have a smoking gun and can see a dead man lying on the ground, but we cannot speak with certainty; we cannot be sure that the global warming we are seeing is due to human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose findings are used as the basis for environmental policy around the world, even by the Bush Administration, said early it was "unlikely" that the warming was due entirely to natural causes, and added in its most recent formal assessment report that it was there was now, "new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities."

6. Global temperatures will rise in the future: VERY LIKELY. Because it is widely believed that most of the current rise in CO2 is due to human activities, because it is known that a sufficient increase in CO2 will cause global warming eventually, and because the projected increase in CO2 emissions over the next few decades from the growing global economy will bring atmospheric CO2 concentrations to sufficiently dangerous levels as determined by virtually every model of climate change, the IPCC predicts there will be global warming of somewhere in the range of 2.2 to 10 degrees (F) over the next century, if nothing is done. There are many possible uncertainties and possible cooling effects that lead to the broad range of predicted temperature changes, and in some parts of the world, the resulting changes in weather patterns may instead induce local cooling—but the IPCC warns that a global, average increase of even the lowest projected size, "would probably be greater than any seen in the past 10,000 years."

7. Global temperature rise will cause ocean levels to rise, increasing hurricanes, and more violent weather: MAYBE. An increase in ocean levels is a very likely outcome--indeed, there are already measurable increases--but none of the other climate changes are certain, because they require better models of weather than we currently can produce. So in case you were wondering, "The Day After Tomorrow" is an amusing but silly film.

None of this has to do with the ozone hole, increasing methane from cows, decreasing trees in the rainforest, loss of species diversity, nuclear power, El Nino, the Arctic Oscillation, or the vast left-wing conspiracy. It's just good science.


Saturday, May 07, 2005

Victory in Europe Day

Hi Everyone,

For most of my life I've had a fascination with European history and politics. Now I study the political institutions of European and other democratic governments. It's nice to get paid to do what you love. Anyway, in my view there are few dates in European history that approach the importance of May 8, 1945 or Victory In Europe Day. On this day, the Allied forces of most of the world's governments defeated the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler. This day was the beginning of the peaceful unification of Europe. Only November 9, 1989 (the night the citizens of a divided Berlin united to rip down the hated Berlin wall with whatever tools they could lay hands on) comes close to (but does not match) the importance of the day Humanity defeated the NAZIs.

World War II was the costliest war in human history. And what caused this global holocaust? Was there a sudden scarcity of food or some other resource vital to life itself? No! The war was started to satisfy nationalist pride. When the guns finally fell silent no fewer than 62 Million human beings had been killed, most of them innocent civilians.

Soviet Union: 8 million soldiers, 20 million civilians killed
Germany: 5 million soldiers, 2.7 million civilians killed
Poland: 123,000 soldiers, 5.7 million civilians killed

The list goes on and of course the global massacre went beyond Europe's borders to include Asia as well.

China: 2.5 million soldiers, 15 million civilians
India: 60, 000 soldiers, 4 million civilians (largely in war induced famine when Burmese rice was cut off from Bengal by the Japanese occupation compounded by British food distribution that favored their military)
Japan: 1.3 million soldiers, 672,000 civilians

As American (mostly Republican) politicians and jingoist "journalists" on TV demand that we adopt an "America First" posture in the world, consider the price of nationalism. Take a moment this VE Day to reflect on the consequences of nationalist ideology.


Intelligent Design

Hi Gang,

There are a lot of more or less a-political people out there who vote for Republicans because they assume that the Republicans are simply the party of small government and low taxes. They are either ignorant of or not concerned about the influence of the religious right. They tell themselves that really there is no serious problem with the fact that the GOP is dominated by religious fundamentalists both at the leadership level and the activist/grass roots level.

But I believe that issues like the so called "Intelligent Design" movement show exactly what the problem is. The Republican party has been taken over by an anti-modern social movement bent on the destruction of modern, Western civilization. These people argue that they have scientific evidence that life, the universe, and everything could not have come about by any means other than by design. Here is the website for the Intelligent Design Network. Here is a link to the Discovery Institute, another intelligent design website, with more detail about their political agenda. Here is a link to a debate about intelligent design. Here is an essay about intelligent design by Victor Stenger, a physics professor at U. Hawaii.

Why does this matter? Because "encouraging" the teaching intelligent design is the law of the land in Ohio (although I hear from my friends that suburban school districts are largely continuing as before while rural districts have changed) and Kansas Republicans on the state school board are currently pushing for this in Kansas schools.

Question: Is intelligent design the last step? Will these people stop when they get permission for sympathic teachers to teach it? Or will they wait a while then push for 100% commitment to their views. A hint as to what their agenda is that "Young Earth" creationists are supporting the "Intelligent Design" movement in Kansas. Why? Because "Intelligent Design" is acting as a vanguard movement, a foot in the door if you will.

I'm interested in hearing the legal, theological, and scientific/logical perspectives on this from the other Citizens and our friends.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Names You Should Not Give Your Children

Follow this link to find the most popular names of 2004:

So, if you're expecting out there and wanting to give one of these cool hip names, don't. Every other kid in your child's class will have the same name. In other words, it's a fad. And it will seem dated in the future. **

You can search to see how popular your name has been. For fun, I mention that my name (not disclosed here) was apparently around 300 on the list for quite a while until about the year I was born, when it began its long plunge and then disappeared off the top 1,000 list in 1993.

It's a sad commentary on American culture that everyone sees the same popular names on TV shows and then just gives them to their kids without thinking. For example, Kobe appears on the list for the first time in 1997 at 553 on the list, and went up to about 250. In 2004, it went back to below 400.

You can see changes in demographics and politics too. 2004 is the first year that Jesus outranked Jesse. Mohammed has declined sharply since 2001. George was #8 in 1938 and has declined each year to 148 now. In California, Jose is #4. In New York, it's #60. In Texas, it's #1. Anyone who wants to know which names to give their children can go to the West Virginia site and take instruction (or warning). For boys, the top ten include Logan, Hunter and Tyler. For girls, Madison tops the list. In Utah, Brooklyn is #8 for girls.

Other news has to do with twin names. Some on this blog may know why that subject interests me. The top two sets for boy twins are "Jacob/Joshua" and "Taylor/Tyler." Can you imagine? I mean, to be mistaken for one's twin would be bad enough, but the constant name confusion? Of course, in an age of fertility drugs, the % of identical twins has decreased as a % of all twins. For girls, the idiocy is topped by "Madison/Morgan" (GIRLS, if you can believe that!). In fact, with the exception of "Faith" and "Hope" you have to get to #15 on the list to find a pair of names with different initial letters. Trying to save on monograms? Jeez! For God's sake, do NOT do that to your kids. It's not funny. It's not cute. It's a form of child abuse.

**Particularly stay away from "Madison" for a girl, as the name is (1) a surname, and (2) is an older corruption of "son of Matthew" -- not appropriate for a girl! Try not to seem ignorant as well as trendy.


Why test for AIDS when you can just discriminate?

The FDA is about to implement a new restriction on sperm donors: gays who have had sex at any time during the past 5 years are ineligible. The American Red Cross currently has an even more onerous restriction on blood donors: any, "male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977."

I don't think the Red Cross is homophobic, but rather than taking a principled stand (and also ensuring a larger pool of donors), the Red Cross leadership believes that they must kow-tow to the homophobia of others in order to maintain confidence in the nation's blood supply.

The medical justification is that gays have an "increased risk of HIV/AIDS." According to the CDC, 48% of all HIV/AIDS cases ever diagnosed in the US resulted from homosexual contact, as compared to 16% from heterosexual contact. For new diagnoses (2003) however, homosexual contact was responsible for 42%, while heterosexual contact is up to 31%.

We could, however, choose different statistical groupings. Black Americans accounted for 40% of cumulative HIV/AIDS cases, and 50% of new cases. People aged 35-44 accounted for 39% of HIV/AIDS cumulative cases, and 42% of new cases. People living in the District of Columbia had a new infection rate 12 times the national average, and 5 times the rate of the next worst state or territorty.

...and then, of course, we could just test all donors for HIV/AIDS.


Promiscuous penguins

Chlamydia Outbreak Kills a Dozen Penguins

Look for conservatives to start talking about declining moral values and for liberals to point out how condom distribution could have prevented this whole thing.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Labour Punished and Retained

Polls closed in the UK about half an hour ago. The BBC exit poll of 19,800 voters in 120 districts predicts a Labour government with a 66-seat majority, way down from the 160-seat majority previously enjoyed. Blair's lack of candor about Iraq cost 100 PMs their jobs, the Labour rank and file will likely believe. The vote is looking like 37% Labour, 33% conservative, 22% LibDem, and 8% other. Under the first-past-the-post system of UK elections (similar to those here) that translates into an absolute parliamentary majority for Labour - but with 63% of the public voting against them, Labour will have to change course. The (London) Times is predicting a mere two seat gain for the Liberal Democrats, with all the gains going to the Tories. Thus, as some feared, the LibDems took votes from Labour, but not enough to win, thus being a spoiler handing the seats to the Tories.

It is interesting to reflect that steady Liberal Democrat voting in perpetual third place means that neither Labour nor Tories have to come close to the near-50% needed in a US election, in order to become PM.


May 5

Hi Guys,

On this day in 1862 a Mexican army defeated a French army occupying their country at the Battle of Puebla. The French troops (including the Foreign Legion) had been sent to Mexico by Napoleon III to establish a French client state ruled by the Hapsburg prince, Maximilian.

On this day in 1945, NAZI German forces occupying Denmark were surrendered to allied forces along with all German forces facing General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's forces in the Netherlands and Northern Germany.

On this day in 1961, Alan Sheppard became the first free man to go into space. He was launched up and out of the atmosphere and returned to Earth fairly quickly.

Today in the United Kingdom, British citizens are going to the polls. The latest polls show that it is most likely that the Labour party will retain its majority - barely. Poll trends have shown a lot of movement back and forth in the level of support for Labour and the Liberal Democrats with the support for the Conservatives being stuck in the low 30s.

Lots of stuff happens in May!


Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Anti-Market Right Wing

Hi Folks,

The so called "Religious Right" is mounting an assault on one of the foundations of capitalism: intellectual property rights (see the work of Douglas C. North for discussion of the importance of property rights to the function of capitalist economies).

So what is the attack on intellectual property? It comes from a series of companies that seek to censor (they call it "editing") video releases of films to satisfy demands by Mormons and conservative Christians for "sanitized" films.

These companies purchase DVDs, edit out all the violence, sexual innuendo, nudity (or exposed underwear), and references to homosexuality and then resell the censored DVD to conservatives who want to see movies but don't want to have see someone else's point of view.

Here are some links to these companies' websites so you can see them on their own terms:

Clean Films

Family Safe Media

Family Flix

The Directors Guild of America has been embroiled in a legal fight with these and other companies. The censor companies claim that the DGA is engaging in restraint of trade. The DGA claims these companies are violating US copyright laws. The companies respond by claiming "fair use."

I'm not going to say that the Republican party is behind these companies. But I will say that these companies are symptoms of the same social movement that has taken over the GOP. And this movement is a threat to American democracy and modern society.

Comments? Discussion?