Friday, February 28, 2014

Conceal and Carry A Go Go

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece up about conceal and carry that is most excellent. It starts off with this story.

Charles Ingram and Robert Webster were neighbors in Florida, but friends said the two older men had little love for each other and often quarreled. On a spring day in 2010, the two men, both gun enthusiasts who had state permits to carry concealed weapons, got into another argument across their lawns.

This time, police later said, both men pulled out their weapons. When Mr. Webster began approaching, Mr. Ingram raised his gun, as did Webster. Two shots rang out simultaneously, and both men fell. Webster died almost instantly, Ingram less than a month later. That "Deadwood"-style neighborhood gunfight is one of 555 examples compiled by advocates of gun control detailing how the mere presence of legal guns can turn mundane moments into tragedies.

I think we are going to see a lot more of this as conceal carry numbers have risen dramatically in the last 20 years. Back then, there were less than a million. Now?

In a country that witnesses bloody gun violence of all kinds on a daily basis, Ingram and Webster were part of a growing cohort, a sort of standing militia of what concealed-carry advocates say are between 8 million and 11 million citizens carrying concealed guns in public in the name of protecting themselves and those around them.

Those around them...yeah, I don't need their fucking protection. They can take their fear, anger, hatred, and paranoia and shove it up their collective asses.

Complicating this rise of the concealed gun in America, new research on the psychology of what is called "embodied cognition" suggests that simply the act of holding a gun shades one's perceptions, sometimes at odds with reality. To opponents of concealed carry, such research suggests that a toxic mix of politics and paranoia, added to 30 ounces of chromed steel tucked legally under a belt at Wal-Mart, ultimately equals a scarier and more dangerous society.

Sounds pretty familiar to me. I wonder if this article will bounce off the gun blogger's bubble or if there will be some actual reflection. Thankfully, they aren't all like this.

"There is a certain psychology at work with some who carry openly or concealed," writes columnist Stephen Lemons, in the Phoenix New Times newspaper. "I have seen it in the nativist camp, where these grizzled old white extremists try to provoke their enemies with guns on their hips, itching to blast someone." 

While that may be harsh, even some concealed-carry proponents see a strain of disturbing behavior among some carriers. "Acting like a deadly threat is imminent, walking around stores jerking your head around ... 'on a swivel,' planning your tactical movement from the gas pump to the cash register IS paranoid behavior, unless you live in Fallujah," writes one permit holder on a concealed-carry Internet forum. "Acting like every situation involves a critical threat is goofy.... Don't confuse life with movies."


America Is Not In Decline

Dovetailing quite nicely with Kurtzman's Second American Century is this piece from Politico magazine by Sean Starrs. Our continual and often hyperbolic obsession with "America's decline" really can be most hysterical and irrational.

It all started with a wave of declinism in the 1980s, set off by the rise of Japan. Then the doom and gloom suddenly vanished amid the triumphalism of the 1990s, which transformed the United States into the world’s only superpower. After the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq, many thought “empire” was a better moniker, with the United States apparently able to reshape world order virtually at will. And then just a few years later — poof! — declinism returned with a vengeance, with American power supposedly crashing like the latest Hollywood reality queen. China supplanted Japan as a hegemon on the rise, and the biggest global financial crisis since 1929 — emanating from the United States itself — was allegedly the final nail in the coffin of the American century.

This really is an issue that both parties are guilty of having their heads up their asses. Recently and in the same day, Bubba T and my ultra libertarian/rabid Randian brother in law both foamed at the mouth about how America is doomed. I realized how similar the far left and the far right sound when they are shrill:) But this is exactly what Starrs is talking about in this piece. For example, the metric by which we measure Chinese power is flawed.

China, for example, has been the world’s largest electronics exporter since 2004, and yet this does not at all mean that Chinese firms are world leaders in electronics. Even though China has a virtual monopoly on the export of iPhones, for instance, it is Apple that reaps the majority of profits from iPhone sales. More broadly, more than three-quarters of the top 200 exporting firms from China are actually foreign, not Chinese. This is totally different from the prior rise of Japan, propelled by Japanese firms producing in Japan and exporting abroad.

In the age of globalization, we can't measure a country's economic power in the same way.

What Did The World's Fair of 2014 Look Like 50 Years Ago?

Issac Asimov was pretty accurate when he predicted what the world would look like in 50 years. Check out one of his prognostications.

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the "brains" of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World's Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into "throw away" and "set aside." (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)

Exactly what they look like now. The whole piece is amazing. Read it!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Generation Lost To Fox News

Edwin Lyngar discusses how he lost his father to conservative rage via Fox News. Thrashing hysteria indeed. Some of the highlights.

I enjoyed Fox News for many years, as a libertarian and frequent Republican voter. I used to share many, though not all, of my father’s values, but something happened over the past few years. As I drifted left, the white, Republican right veered into incalculable levels of conservative rage, arriving at their inevitable destination with the creation of the Tea Party movement.

Incalculable levels of conservative rage...I wonder if he has ever checked out any right wing blogs:)

I don’t recall my father being so hostile when I was growing up. He was conservative, to be sure, but conventionally and thoughtfully so. He is a kind and generous man and a good father, but over the past five or 10 years, he’s become so conservative that I can’t even find a label for it. What has changed? He consumes a daily diet of nothing except Fox News. He has for a decade or more. He has no email account and doesn’t watch sports. He refuses to so much as touch a keyboard and has never been on the Internet, ever. He thinks higher education destroys people, not only because of Fox News, but also because I drifted left during and after graduate school.

I was the same way when I watched Fox News after 9-11. They thrive on anger and fear but it's not just them. Conservative media as a whole is patterned after the Fox model.

Truly, this is a sad piece. As Lyngar notes, his father's generation are "a wounded and thrashing legacy of white hegemony." This is why they act the way they do. They are afraid.

Good Words

Many Americans warmly smiled when former first lady Barbara Bush said “I love Bill Clinton.” The respect and affection between former presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush is genuine and very American. It hearkens back to an Americanism dating back to the early republic of Jefferson and Adams, which voters would greatly value today, when political opponents collaborated with mutual respect to advance national interests. 

The mudslinging attack by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) against Clinton is a textbook case of why Kamikaze Republicans lost national elections in 2006, 2008 and 2012. Voters are disgusted by this lowball brand of GOP politics, practiced by politicians who look mean, shallow and small against a former president who is widely liked, admired and respected. Ditto for Republicans addicted to what I recently called their “Benghazi disease,” which has left former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton towering above potential Republican opponents in polling for the 2016 presidential race. 

--Brent Budowsky, The Hill

In addition to voters being disgusted by these sorts of attacks, they also don't take a shine to the far right. The Republicans have a chance to make some real gains this year. Will they be able to resist the catnip of going full on moonbat as they have done in the past four elections?

The Second American Century

Joel Kurtzman, former Editor in Chief of the Harvard Business Review, recently posted a great summation of his new book, Unleashing the Second American Century: Four Forces for Economic Dominance. Looks like I am going to need this book ASAP.

The core of his argument is optimism. Despite the continual drudge of negative views of the future of our country,  we are indeed poised to continue our hegemonic dominance of the world. Kurtzman posits that because of the following four reasons, the future is looking very, very bright for you country.

American Creativity

Manufacturing Renaissance

An Energy Bonanza

Abundant Capital

He offers brief summations of each of these reasons in the linked post above. I'll be taking about this book as I read it, thus the new tag called "Second American Cenutry."

If I were a political party in this country (hint hint), I would jump on the Kurtzman bandwagon right now. Optimism always wins the day over anger, hatred, and fear.

For Arizona Republicans

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Tool-Using Fun-Loving Crow

There's been a long debate over what differentiates us from animals. Some say it's self-awareness, some say it's language, some say it's tool use, and so on.

Here's a hilarious example of a crow that demonstrates two very human qualities: tool use and having fun.

Why did the crow decide to do this? It seems unlikely someone would have gone to the effort of training it. Did it see some kids sledding down a hill and copy them? Or did it slide down a roof one day and find that it was fun but kind of rough on the tootsies, so it looked for something to sit on to prevent chafing?

Crows have long been known to be quite intelligent, able to count up to at least five, use tools and recognize human faces. Squirrels and scrub jays have a "theory of mind:" they know that if other animals see them hide food that they'll have to come back and move it. There have been parrots with large vocabularies, the ability to count and the intellectual and emotional capacity of young human children. There's a border collie that knows the names of hundreds of objects and can perform fairly complex commands with them. Dolphins exhibit self awareness. Apes like Koko and Kanzi can communicate with humans using sign language or computer lexigrams, and Koko even wanted pet kittens.

Pet owners can describe any number of seemingly intelligent behaviors that their charges exhibit; most of these are likely due to repetition and anthropomorphization, but the undeniable conclusion is that animals can form a strong two-way emotional bond with humans that extends beyond a trained Pavlovian response.

From these examples it's clear that some animals have expressed each of the abilities that comprise human cognition. Humans are the only creatures that assemble the whole package into what we call intelligence.

Intelligence is not an either-or proposition: it's a continuum with a huge variation among individuals of the same species.

Death Knell for Bitcoin?

Mt. Gox, the main bitcoin exchange, will apparently declare bankruptcy.  The exchange was robbed of 740,000 bitcoins, "worth" $350-400 million. The exchange rate for bitcoin is now about $580, down from over $1,200 a few months ago.

How did this happen? The main problem with digital currency is that it's just a string of bits that can be copied any number of times. Since you can potentially use the same bitcoin to buy stuff from 10, 1,000 or a million different people, you need some mechanism to prevent that:
HENN: In the conventional banking system - trusted third parties, like banks and credit card companies - keep ledgers to make sure I can't do that. But bitcoin solved this problem by creating a public record of every transaction. So if I buy something from you with a bitcoin, a record of that transaction is shared and recorded across the entire bitcoin network - everyone knows.

The theory is that public ledger make it impossible for me to spend a bitcoin twice. Because after I spent it, everyone would know that coin was actually yours. You know, one of the appeals of this system is that it eliminates those trusted third parties, those banks and credit card companies, and at least in theory could make moving money around the world much, much cheaper.

BLOCK: OK. But wait, Steve. If you're telling me that every transaction is supposed to be recorded in a publicly-shared ledger, right, how does it happen that thieves could apparently manage to steal, what you say, could be $350 or $400 million from this exchange, Mt. Gox?

HENN: Well, that's a great question. So sharing and recording all these transactions on the bitcoin network it turns out takes some time. So for this and a couple other reasons, the community developed kind of a short-cut: A temporary ID number that would be attached to each transaction and making tracking transactions in the short-term easier. But these temporary ID numbers can be faked.

Apparently people were approaching Mt. Gox with fake ID numbers, telling the exchange they hadn't received the bitcoins they were owed. And then Mt. Gox was relying on these numbers and giving the thieves real bitcoins. This may well have drained Mt. Gox's resources to the point were it's now insolvent.
The main draw of bitcoin is that there's no governing central authority keeping track. This is also the main drawback of bitcoin: there's no governing central authority keeping track, or protecting or insuring you. The people whose bitcoins were stolen have no recourse. There's no FDIC insurance. Unlike the Target credit card number theft, there's no Visa or Mastercard to shield consumers from losses. There's utterly no way to track down who ripped off Mt. Gox and their customers: anonymity is the entire point of bitcoin.

The impetus for using bitcoin for legal transactions is a little hazy. When you buy something on the Internet you still need it sent to your house. That's hardly anonymous: the seller has to keep computerized records of your address, so your anonymity is only protected by how careful and competent your supplier is. Even if you're buying something digital, like porn, it still has to come to you over the Internet, which after the NSA spying scandal turns out to be not very anonymous.

If you're concerned about hiding transactions from your spouse (like a surprise birthday gift, or that porn bill), you can often pay through a PayPal or similar account, which is a lot easier to keep secret than a joint credit card.

Anything you buy in person can be bought with cash, which is even more anonymous than bitcoin because it doesn't require any computers or connection to the Internet. Using it won't leave any digital footprints that lead the NSA back to your door, and your spouse won't find it in the browser history that you forgot to clear.

At this point, bitcoin is the domain of drug dealers, gun runners, money launderers and crooks. But there's another den of thieves itching to get in on the action.

Barry Silbert, of SecondMarket, is in discussions with several banks to create an exchange to trade bitcoins. Only large institutions would be allowed to join. Some of these same institutions advised their clients to invest in bogus CDOs while betting against those same financial instruments; they gambled away trillions of dollars on bad real estate deals and trashed the world economy. What could possibly go wrong when they start advising their clients to invest in the totally unregulated market of bitcoin futures?

Maybe someday there will be a reliable digital currency that has the virtues of bitcoin but none of the problems. But today's digital currencies are little different from the gold players create in World of Warcraft -- which when I checked today had an exchange rate of $12.80 for 10,000 gold. Not quite bitcoin territory, but what can you expect for killing a bunch of orcs? And the crazy thing is that bitcoins are created in essentially the same way: just crunching numbers on a computer.

The bitcoin market is like the Wild West, only there are no Earp brothers or Texas Rangers. It's just a bunch of crooks and their libertarian tech geek enablers. Since a huge percentage of Mt. Gox's customers are criminals dealing in drugs and money laundering, it's no surprise they were robbed blind.

When you sleep with dogs you get fleas.

How To Check Out Chicks in Minnesota

Best Office Guy EVER!!

If only more guys were like David Thorne...

A Massive Eugenics Program?

I was reading this conversation on the New York Times about why theists believe in gods. The first order answer is simple: the vast majority of people believe in gods because they were brought up to do so.

But why, when there's utterly no physical evidence whatsoever that gods act in the real world, are we so easily convinced of the existence of a super Santa who keeps track of who's naughty and who's nice? The answer might be found in evolutionary biology.

For literally thousands of years of humanity has been conducting one pogrom after another against people who don't believe in god. The Egyptians deified pharaohs as living gods and forced their subjects to worship them. The Romans required citizens to pay obeisance to their deities. Christians hounded pagans across Europe to convert, and killed those would not. Muslims scoured Asia, Europe and North Africa and forced infidels to convert or die.

American settlers killed countless Indians through disease and war. The remaining few had their religion, culture, and their very names stripped away when the government sent their children away to Christian boarding schools.

Many conservative Christians deny the existence of evolution. But they know from personal experience that you can breed desirable traits into domesticated animals, and eliminate the undesirable traits.

For millennia most of the world has been conducting an intensive selective breeding program to cull non-believers from their ranks. How long would it take this kind of selection to result in physical changes in the brain that predispose people to believe in the existence of supernatural beings? Some researchers believe there is a "god spot" in the brain; has that structure in the brain been bred to be more prominent over thousands of years by believers?

When you factor in the commandments of so many religions, including Catholicism and Mormonism, to have large families, the admonitions of Catholicism to eschew birth control, and Islam encouraging men to have multiple wives, it's clear that they're trying to inflate their numbers on the supply side as well.

So you gotta wonder: is religion a massive eugenics experiment?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Your Own Spaceship

Have you ever wanted to cruise the solar system, see the rings of Saturn, ride the moons of Jupiter? There's a freeware application for Windows called Celestia that lets you do that, virtually. (It's available at, and addons are available at  

Saturn and Mimas
Celestia lets you position yourself almost anywhere in the universe and shows you what you would see. You can put yourself in orbit around Saturn, following its moon Mimas, or Mars, or Jupiter, or Alpha Centauri, or Cygnus X1, one of the first black holes astronomers discovered.

Celestia is basically a planetarium application that frees you from the constraints of the terracentric viewpoint most such programs impose. You can position yourself anywhere and easily change the angle you're looking from, zooming in and out. You can reverse time, speed it up, slow it down, watching the moon go through its phases as it orbits the earth, or the Galilean moons zip around Jupiter like moths around a flame. You can turn on your virtual spacecraft's thrusters and zoom around the solar system at the speed of light. Celestia also displays man-made objects, such as the International Space Station. It will also find the dates of solar and lunar eclipses and display the shadow of the moon on the earth's surface so that you can tell where the eclipse can be seen from.

Though Celestia feels like a game, it's rooted in science. It has been used by NASA and the European Space Agency, and several universities and schools to teach astronomy. Its graphics aren't on par with what professional artists can produce with their high-powered graphics workstations, but hey, it's free!

This photo album shows images of Earth, Mars, Jupiter, its moon IO, and the Discovery spacecraft from 2001: A Space Odyssey (but no monolith, alas), the Atlantis space shuttle, the International Space Station, Saturn and its moon Mimas, and the galaxy M83.

But the coolest part about Celestia is that you can add your own images and objects, and a lot of people have done exactly that. Celestia Motherlode is a repository of addons that people around the world have created. Enthusiasts have created addons depicting stars, planets and spacecraft from real life and scientific conjecture, as well as numerous fictional sources such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Niven's Known Space, Star Wars, etc.

The most detailed fictional creations are from the Orion's Arm Universe Project, a worldbuilding project where hundreds of people around the world have collaborated to create a future history in which mankind has spread out across the galaxy.

To test customization out myself, I made my own texture for the moon, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tick. A texture is just computerspeak for a flat JPEG image that is wrapped around 3D objects by graphics programs. Here's the resulting video:

If you want to create your own addons for Celestia there's quite a learning curve, but there are a lot of resources on the Internet that give all the details. You don't really have to know orbital mechanics to make your own creations; you just have to be able to cut and paste text files. To make your own alternate surface textures for planets and moons you'll need a graphics program (The Gimp is a good freeware one, despite the name). To make your own 3D objects, you'll need a 3D editing program (Blender is an amazingly sophisticated freeware application). Be warned: making 3D objects is big job if you don't already know how to do it.

For a long time it seemed that the dream of mankind going into space was dead. But the reach for space is finally getting rolling again: countries like China, India, Japan are joining the United States, Russia and Europe with serious space programs that are conducting real science. Companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are pioneering private launch services. Entertainment ventures like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and the Mars One project (the one-way trip to Mars planned for the 2020s) may never come to fruition, but the dream is alive and people are taking space very seriously.

And Celestia will give you a little preview of what we'll see out there.

Keynes and Hayek A Go Go

A recent discussion in comments reminded me of this piece from a while back that I never posted. There were a couple of good points in it.

The problem with the Hayekian position is that it’s relentlessly negative: spending doesn’t work, stimulus doesn’t work, all we can do is suffer a nasty bout of deflation and trust in the invisible hand to eventually get us back to work again. 

Right. Then, there was this highly familiar point...

For the Hayekians, the Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth was particularly revealing: she would take a question about rescuing the financial system and duck it by talking about how rescuing the auto industry was a bad idea. Or she would ridicule high-speed rail by saying that no one wants to take the train from New York to L.A.—a route that precisely no one is proposing. In other words, the Hayekians were more comfortable with straw men than with messy reality. 

Pretty much sums up every discussion I've every had with these sorts of folks. 

But I remembered that the main reason why I didn't is that is seemed far too bipolar. The answer isn't always simply "Keynes" or "Hayek." In fact, in the current age of globalization, neither fully apply. I've always been one to take a more constructivist approach to any issue of the day. New ideas that are people driven, not "school of thought" driven. For example, both liberalism and realism completely failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union. They didn't figure that Gorbachev would simply give up and call it a day. Is there an economist out there or world leader who will finally leave behind both Keynsian economics as well as the theories of Friedrich Hayek? In my view, it's long overdue. How does one stimulate aggregate demand when we have a world economy? This implies that all of the world's governments would have to act in concert to achieve this end and, given the reality of the international stage and conflicting interests, this hardly seems likely.

And there are far too many misconceptions about John Maynard Keynes that have sadly taken root. The thing that people forget about Keynes is that only called for increased government spending in times of contraction. When economies were doing well, he did call for austerity and reduced spending. The anti-spending anaphylactics tend to forget that. These same people also forget that Ronald Reagan was a Keynsian by both cutting taxes (which increases aggregate demand) and increasing spending. "I'm not worried about the deficit. It's big enough to take care of itself," he once quipped. Richard Nixon famously said, "We are all Keynsians now" and, to a certain extent, he was right.

My biggest beef with Hayekians is that can't point to a real world example of how his theories work in practice. Like the libertarian fantasists, where was the utopia of which they dream? How would it work today, given globalization? Certainly, they can point to austerity measures taken during boom times but that's honestly Keynes, not Hayek. The reality is Hayekians just don't like the government. Their emotions about it have clouded their judgment and inhibited them from seeing that different circumstances dictate different paths of solutions.

Sometimes you can't plug a square peg into a round hole. Shocking, I know!

Snow Swimming

Yes, the snow is that deep in Duluth. It's about the same here in Minneapolis.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spokesman For Science

Great piece in the Times about how Alan Alda is working to improve the way scientists communicate with us ordinary folk. Why?

That scientists often don’t speak to the rest of us the way they would if we were standing there full of curiosity. They sometimes spray information at us without making that contact that I think is crucial. If a scientist doesn’t have someone next to them, drawing them out, they can easily go into lecture mode. There can be a lot of insider’s jargon. If they can’t make clear what their work involves, the public will resist advances. They won’t fund science. How are scientists going to get money from policy makers, if our leaders and legislators can’t understand what they do? I heard from one member of Congress that at a meeting with scientists, the members were passing notes to one another: “Do you know what this guy is saying?” “No, do you?” 

Agreed and exactly why we have the problem we do with climate change.

Of course, that's why I think more scientists should run for Congress! 

Subdividing the Denial Camp

The video Mark posted divides the American people into six camps on climate change. One of the camps, however, needs to be broken up into two distinct subgroups: those who deny climate change but know it is happening and want it to happen, and the suckers who believe them.

The first subgroup is lying about it because they stand to rake in trillions of dollars in oil and gas revenues. This group includes oil company executives like the Koch brothers, people like Sarah Palin and anyone in Congress who gets money from oil companies.

The Koch brothers aren't stupid. They understand and appreciate science (David Koch is a major funder of the PBS program Nova), including climate science. They know that the ice is retreating from the arctic more and more each year. They know because arctic warming is melting the permafrost under their roads, oil rigs and pipelines, raising havoc with the foundations of their drilling operations.

But in the long run, they see global warming as a good thing: the warmer Alaska and Canada get, the easier it will be to extract the oil from the Arctic. Right now extracting oil up there a real bitch: they only have a couple of months a year for exploration because the seas get so rough and the weather gets so bad. But they know that the deposits elsewhere in the world will quickly run dry, what with countries like China and India increasing demand, and they want to get in on the ground floor in the Arctic regions. Gotta beat the Russians!

And an ice-free Northwest Passage would be great for commerce: it'll be so much easier to send Canadian oil to China!

Sarah Palin lives in Alaska, so she should know as well as anyone that Alaska is getting a lot warmer fast. But living in such a cold place is not a lot of fun, despite what she says on her TV shows, so she'd really prefer it 20 degrees warmer.

Other mining concerns stand to benefit hugely if the ice sheet on Greenland melts: there are massive deposits of minerals, including aluminum and uranium, in Greenland, and potentially a great deal of oil. The people of Greenland, all 50,000 of them, would like to get money from that mining, be able to grow their own food, and be independent of Denmark.

How can these guys reconcile the fact that they know they're trashing the climate, hurting billions of people in the next several decades? First and foremost, they just don't care. This is the typical reaction you get from a lot of people — but especially conservatives — when you point out terrible injustice or serious consequences of what they're doing.

Tell them that voter ID will prevent minorities, the elderly and students from voting: they don't care. Tell them that polar bears will go extinct: they don't care. Tell them that Kiribati will be drowned: they don't care. Tell them that Florida will lose all those beaches: they don't care. Tell them that higher sea levels will cause storm surges on the Atlantic coast to drastically increase storm damage: they don't care. Tell them that Manhattan will be inundated: they don't care, and would love it if all of New York disappeared.

They may say they don't believe that the ill effects you speak of are happening, and they may rationalize it away by saying "we need to increase confidence in the integrity of the voting process," or "species of animals go extinct all the time: just look at the dinosaurs,"  but the reality is that they just don't care, or they want it to happen.

They should care in the case of global warming, because it will hurt this country in the pocketbook with increased insurance rates, decreased crop yields, higher food prices, more tropical diseases, more powerful storms, bigger defense budgets trying to deal with the warfare that droughts, floods and famines in other countries will produce.

But climate deniers are like smokers. "Yeah, I know smoking will kill me eventually. But since I like smoking and I don't want to make the effort to quit, I'll just take my chances. Maybe I'll get hit by a bus before lung cancer kills me. So why bother to quit smoking, or get daily exercise, or eat right?"

Replace "smoking " with "climate change," "lung cancer" with "drought, famine, floods, and war" and "quitting, exercise and eating right" with "developing renewable energy sources" and you have encapsulated the mindset of the climate change deniers.

Another coping mechanism is rationalizing that we'll just adapt. "People can just move. We'll find a way to stop if it does happen. Human ingenuity trumps all." They just don't seem to get that using ingenuity sooner rather than later would save a whole lot of trouble, money and lives.

Perhaps the most foolish rationalization possible is that "God won't let it happen. He promised." Yeah, and every football team that huddles in prayer before the big game wins, right?

Then there are the "we can't be the first" and "it's not all our fault" rationalizations. This argument goes: since China is emitting the most CO2 now, we don't have to do anything -- even though in 2009 we burned four times more fossil fuel per capita than China.

Then there's uncertainty: some climate change deniers like the Koch brothers are well-versed in science. They know that climate change predictions are difficult, and any number of things could cause the planet to cool if they happened. There is natural variation in climate, and maybe we'll luck out and it'll kick when we need it most. If a giant volcano blows up, the planet would be cooled down. If a sizable asteroid hit the planet, we'd have a nuclear winter. If solar output mysteriously drops, the temperature could plummet.

But doing nothing because such unpredictable -- and terribly destructive -- things might happen is the worst kind of wishful thinking. It's like speeding toward an intersection and closing your eyes when the light turns yellow.

The last refuge of these scoundrels is not patriotism, but money. "Even if everything you say is true, it'll cost too much to do anything about climate change." This is essentially what the few reputable climate scientists that the Koch brothers' claim as their own have said. They admit it's happening, but there's just too much political and economic inertia to do anything about it. "We'll just have to make the best of it."

The climate change deniers of today are like the smokers of the Sixties. They know what they're doing is bad, but can't kick the habit. But as the scientific evidence that smoking caused disease kept piling up, and more people got tired of breathing second-hand smoke, smoking started to be banned most everywhere: planes, restaurants, bars, even outside public buildings.

The problem is that climate change deniers can't smoke in the privacy of their own homes: their CO2 winds up in the same atmosphere that shapes the climate that we all live in.

The Battle of Wisconsin

Three years ago, Wisconsin become Ground Zero for the battle over public sector unions. There were two sides drawn with Scott Walker and austerity supporters on one and the unions on the other. The former prevailed and the public sector unions were not allowed, by law, to bargain collectively (except for the police and fire department).

The results from this change in policy are muddy at best. Scott Walker promised 250,000 jobs as a result. The state has only netted just over 50,000. Of course, that's a politician's promise so a boulder of salt should taken with it. Wisconsin's unemployment rate sits at 6.5 percent which is about the national average. The state government has a surplus (yippee!) but that's not really saying much. As I have mentioned previously, Wisconsin illustrates how austerity policies do not work.

That being said, this recent article in the Times shows how there are many sides to this story. For instance,

Ted Neitzke, school superintendent in West Bend, a city of 31,000 people north of Milwaukee, said that before Act 10 his budget-squeezed district had to cut course offerings and increase class sizes. Now, the district has raised the retirement age for teachers and revamped its health plan, saving $250,000 a year. “We couldn’t negotiate or maneuver around that when there was bargaining,” Mr. Neitzke said. “We’ve been able to shift money out of the health plan back into the classroom. We’ve increased programming.” 

A good thing for students but not so great for the teachers. Now, they have to contribute more out of pocket and, as a result, they don't have as much money to spend in the economy. The rest of the piece looks at examples of all the different angles and fallout from Act 10. It's very much worth a slow read because what is seen on Fox or MSNBC is very simplistic.

Here's something else from the article I found interesting.

James R. Scott, a Walker appointee who is chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which administers the law regarding public-employee unions, said that “as a result of Act 10, the advantages that labor held have been diminished.” He added: “It’s fair to say that employers have the upper hand now.” 

But the employers are the government. Doesn't that add power to "Big" Government? What power does the individual now have if they are a public employee?

Global Warming's Six Americas

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The President's Approval Ratings Rise

Rasmussen has the president at 50 or above for the last four days. Disapproval is dropping as well. I wonder why?

Pizza That Lasts Years

It's stories like this that give me hope.


Imagine it....a pizza that takes this long to go wonderful!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Another Reason To Hate MSNBC


U.S. Economic Activity, Split in Half and Mapped

Check this out...

The orange represents 50 percent of the economic activity of the entire country whereas the blue represents the other half. Looks like my hometown is pulling its weight quite well. Of course, it's hard to go wrong with 3M, General Mills, Target, Best Buy, Cargill and UHC in one spot, just to name a few.

Hmm...I see a whole lot of blue in red state areas. What a bunch of freeloaders...must be the fault of Obama and the federal government!;)

Arizona Gaydar

Arizona passed legislation Thursday that would allow businesses the right to refuse service that violates their religious beliefs. The main intent of the law is to prevent the gays from gaying up "Christian" businesses with their fag germs. I'm wondering if these same businesses can refuse service to anyone now based on religious beliefs. In addition, how can they tell if someone is gay? Smell? Looks?

It will be interesting to see if Jan Brewer signs the bill. I get that Arizona has a lot of frightened old people that are becoming more irrational by the minute but this law seems preposterous. I think the most detrimental effect will be on the economy of Arizona. Why are gay people's money less green than straight people's money?

Global Parents

A recent discussion with my daughter's principal regarding the image below

ended up going a lot longer than I expected (nearly 30 minutes!) and produced a term that I'm going to be using a lot on this site: Global Parents.

The biggest challenge in education today are the parents. There isn't even an issue that comes close. Our schools aren't collapsing. In fact they are doing much better these days (more on that in a future post). It is the parents that are collapsing. Crappy parents, far too many crappy parents, are the reason why our country's education system has problems. At the crux of their shittastic personalities is the flaw of being in constant negotiation mode over the grades their child receives. This, in turn, leads to the much larger problem of not understanding what globalization truly means.

Many parents thinks their child deserves a better grade and they constantly whine about how they think their child did enough for an A. They are essentially fighting for and rewarding mediocrity. Ultimately, this type of approach works against the future of their children as they are inadequately preparing them for the future. If we are going to be competitive in the global marketplace and continue to be a superpower, it must start with excelling at the core subjects. They have to think globally, not locally. In the moment of trying to finagle a good grade for their son or daughter they miss the bigger picture. Do they honestly think that Chinese parents are bartering for a better grade when their kid did average work?

We always talk about demanding more of our children and our education system. But what about the parents?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Good Words

"At this time we see a resurgence of the far right within the Republican Party because the base -- a small minority of the American population, mostly concentrated in the south -- is becoming hysterical now that they think the end is nigh. They seem to believe that if what they're doing isn't working, screaming louder will win them more elections. They will never go away, but as older southern voters motivated by fear and paranoia die they will become less and less influential." 

(Nikto, 21 February 2014)

The Gap Closes The Gap

It looks like retail clothing firm The Gap has joined Costco and other businesses in economic intelligence. people more money...they spend more money in the economy...businesses hire more people and earn more profit...weird how that works:)

No Pendulum and No Coming Out of Nowhere

Last Saturday I had the honor and pleasure of catching a film with former commenter and all around great guy, Last in Line. We went out for meat loaf afterwards and, as is usually the case, the discussion turned to politics. He wondered if I had any complaints about the president other than my main one (military assaults up on his watch). I told him I really didn't. Considering the choices that he has made, what better ones were there? I remained convinced that presidents have to choose the best worst choice because the problems they have to deal with are so awful and convoluted that no human can actually fix them. The president has done his best considering what he was handed 5 years ago.

Our conversation turned to 2016 and the election. Last gave his usual line, seen many times in comments, about the pendulum going back and forth and that some candidate, likely a conservative governor, would come out of nowhere, be the nominee for the GOP, and win because everyone hates Obama. I tried to explain to him that Republicans haven't gotten over 300 electoral votes since 1988 but he was having none of it. We moved on to talk about other topics but something stuck in my mind about his mindset that was inherently flawed and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. After some reflection, I figured it out.

Aside from the obvious fact that the pendulum has not really been moving much in the GOP's direction for quite some time, the advent of social media and how we get our political news (via the internet) makes it virtually impossible for a candidate to "come out of nowhere." This technology has led us to elections that run year round as opposed to every four years. There are no unknowns in politics any longer. All of the names being bandied about for the 2016 nomination likely contain the eventual nominee. Each one has massive flaws and can't win a national election if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. She will win all the states Barack Obama won in 2008 and at least two red states. Period. If she decides not to run, the GOP might have a shot but if they nominate Ted Cruz or another hard right candidate, forget it. The GOP is a dying party. Gerrymandering will keep them alive for the next couple elections in Congress but unless they change, that's it.

And I wouldn't be too sure about the "everyone hates Obama" meme. Yesterday, conservative polling outfit Rasmussen had him at a 50-49 approval rating. It could be just statistical noise but they have had him above 45 for quite some time now. Perhaps we need to stop listening to "the experts in the liberal media" and realize that a good chuck of those who disapprove of the president are liberal and will never vote for a conservative. This simple fact should guide Democrats in 2014, 2016 and beyond.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Guns In Bars and Churches

Georgia House votes to allow weapons in bars, churches.

Well, I'm sure this will work out well...

Please Notice Us!!

Sarah Palin backs Greg Abbott 

“If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!” Palin wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday.

Wow. They must really be getting insecure these days and in desperate need of attention:)

Convicted of Being a Bad Shot

Here we go again. A white guy in Florida starts hassling a black kid, then pulls a gun and shoots him dead. And the jury somehow can't convict the guy of murder.

Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in 2012, where some kids were parked playing loud music. He told them to turn it down, and apparently they complied, but Dunn shot the victim, Jordan Davis, anyway. Davis died almost immediately. As the kids' car pulled away Dunn pumped several more shots into it.

Dunn was convicted of attempted murder of the other kids in the car, but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge.

Apparently the only real crime in Florida is being a bad shot.

One of the jurors said that the final vote was 9-3 to convict on the murder charge, but three jurors were convinced that Dunn felt he was in danger.
The juror explained that jurors got a glimpse into Dunn’s ego when he said he asked people to turn down their music several times before in his hometown. Valerie told "Nightline" that Dunn’s insistence during his testimony that he was in danger was an important moment in the trial.
So, this jerk goes around town hassling people playing music, secure in the knowledge that if anyone gives him any lip he can just shoot them, then say that he thought he saw a gun and was afraid for his life.

Florida's stand your ground law is custom made for letting people get away with murder. All the "evidence" you need is the ability to give weepy fear-laden testimony to a gullible jury.

Personal responsibility is supposed to be the hallmark of conservative jurisprudence. Stand your ground laws let liars and bullies get away with murder. Maybe Florida should just bite the bullet and institute the death penalty for texting in movie theaters, playing loud music and walking down the street in hoodies.

It looks like Dunn will go to prison for decades, which is a life sentence for the middle-aged man. But you gotta ask: if he had killed all four kids and the car never moved, would those three jurors would have thought him not guilty of any crime at all?

How can not killing three kids be a greater crime than killing one?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The UN Report on North Korea

The United Nations has released a scathing report of the situation inside of North Korea and I say this long overdue. I am so thoroughly disgusted by this that I can hardly write to be honest with all of you.

Some of the key points:

Arbitrary detention, torture, executions and prison camps

The police and security forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear that pre-empts any challenge to the current system of government and to the ideology underpinning it. The institutions and officials involved are not held accountable. Impunity reigns.

Violations of freedom of thought, expression and religion

The state operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.


It is a rigidly stratified society with entrenched patterns of discrimination... Discrimination is rooted in the songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of state-assigned social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religion. Songbun intersects with gender-based discrimination, which is equally pervasive.

Abductions and enforced disappearances from other countries

Since 1950, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequent enforced disappearance of persons from other countries on a large scale and as a matter of state policy.

Violations of the freedom of movement and residence

The state decides where citizens must live and work, violating their freedom of choice... This has created a socioeconomically and physically segregated society, where people considered politically loyal to the leadership can live and work in favourable locations, whereas families of persons who are considered politically suspect are relegated to marginalised areas.

Violations of the right to food and related aspects of the right to life

The state has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritised those whom the authorities believe to be crucial to maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.

Essentially, nothing that we did not already know. So what can we do about it?

At first glance, the answer seems like nothing, given that China's feathers will be ruffled and the American voter is very weary of war. North Korea doesn't seem to want to advance beyond her current borders and obviously has a vested interest in keeping their little concentration camp of a country intact. Yet the human rights violations demand action. Perhaps we could ramp up our covert activity in the country and get a more clear assessment of what it would take to take out the people that are engaging in these actions.

Clearly, this is one of the greatest humanitarian crises we have faced since World War II. It's been going on a long time and it needs to force, if necessary.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chucking Gun Background Checks Means More Murders

Speaking of the debate on gun control...

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research provides evidence that background checks help reduce the murder rate:
The 2007 repeal of a Missouri law that required background checks and licenses for all handgun owners appears to be associated with a significant increase in murders there, a new study finds.

The law’s repeal was correlated with a 23 percent spike in firearm homicide rates, or an additional 55 to 63 murders annually from 2008 to 2012, according to the study conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and to be published in the Journal of Urban Health.

“This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the study’s lead author, said in a news release. “There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed.”

The spike in murders only held for those committed with a gun and was consistent throughout the state. Neither Missouri’s border states nor the nation as a whole saw similar increases.

Eliminating the background check essentially makes it legal for criminals to buy guns. And when you make it legal for criminals to buy guns, criminals shoot more people.

Simple math, really.

A Feller Can Dream, Can't He?

Check out this debate regarding gun control over at


So, that's how civilized people conduct themselves. No wonder none of my regular commenters have accepted my challenge to debate in that forum. How could they possibly do it?:)

"Bridgegate Has Become MSNBC's Benghazi."

So sayeth Bill Maher is a recent blog post and he's absolutely right. MSNBC has officially become the Fox News of the Left and it really sucks. I used to DVR Morning Joe and watch it if I had time later in the night but they just can't lay off Christie. Again, so what? How is what he did any different than what Lyndon Johnson used to do? Add in Mika Brzezinski's tar and feathering of Woody Allen (which is completely devoid of fact, mind you) and we are really only left with Al Jazeera America...still the most honest and best reporting out there.

They don't tell Americans what we want to hear. They tell us what we need to hear. Check out their YouTube feed for what their content is like and why it is superior.

When Not Seeing Leads to Believing

Humans have always searched for explanations for the unknown. When we can't see a rational cause for something, we inevitably conclude that there's some kind of mystical, supernatural force at work.

Even Albert Einstein did this, in a manner of speaking, when he added the cosmological constant to his theory of general relativity in order to achieve a static universe, which was the accepted theory at the time. Einstein later called this his "greatest blunder."

More recently astrophysicists came up with something called dark matter to explain the "missing mass problem": astronomers cannot find enough mass with telescopes to account for the gravitational effects they observe in the galaxies around us.

Galaxy and its halo
By the 1930s astronomers had found that nearby galaxies were rotating faster than could be explained by the estimates of the masses of their visible components (stars and gas clouds): there had to be some kind of invisible matter providing most of the mass that held these galaxies together. Even accounting for the black holes that we know are at the center of most galaxies, there still wasn't enough mass.

Current theory postulates that most dark matter is some kind of special "nonbaryonic" matter, hypothetical axion particles completely unlike mundane protons, neutrons and electrons. However, the theory does grant that a small portion of the missing mass is regular "baryonic" matter, residing in massive compact halo objects.

They also came up with something called dark energy to explain why the universe keeps expanding faster and faster. Dark energy is sort of like antigravity, an idea that raises a lot of hackles. One current theory goes into great detail, calculating that the universe is composed of 4.9% regular matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.4% dark energy.

This is the mirror image of seeing is believing: not seeing mundane physical matter led scientists to believe in the existence of strange and esoteric dark matter.

I admit to being skeptical about dark matter (and dark energy). It smacks of the sort of mystical answer that I distrust: we can't see the missing mass, so that must mean there's something special and weird going on. I've always thought that the simpler Occam explanation is that we just can't see the missing mass because it's dark out there. Dim red dwarf stars, brown dwarfs (starlike objects too small to emit visible light) and cold dust clouds are essentially invisible to our telescopes, or the masses of galactic core black holes could be underestimated, or there could be smaller undetected "loner" black holes orbiting in the galactic periphery.

Well, now it turns out that someone may have found that missing mass, in exactly the place we should have expected it. This discovery has the potential to completely upend decades of theoretical astrophysics.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Jessica Werk and her team at the University of California, Santa Cruz, used light from quasars to detect haloes of cold gas around galaxies ("cold" is relative: the gas is at 10,000 degrees Celsius). The gas previously observed in galactic haloes is about 1 million degrees -- at that temperature the gas emits photons and can be detected by our optical and radio telescopes.

The cold gas clouds absorb some of the quasar's light as it passes through, allowing Werk's team to detect traces of carbon, silicon magnesium and hydrogen. They calculated that there may be 10 to 100 times the amount of cold gas than astronomers previously thought existed, potentially making up all of the missing mass.

If these observations hold up and the cold gas haloes do account for all the missing mass, that doesn't mean the scientists who theorized about dark matter were wrong to do so. They were working with the best data they had, and some aspects of the theory could still be true. And this finding still doesn't explain why the universe's expansion seems to be accelerating (though that could be another observational inadequacy).

The biggest mistake we can make in science is assuming that our observations are complete, that the beliefs we have now are final and can't possibly be changed. Even with the best tools and techniques at their disposal, scientists could not detect the missing mass. So, rather than just assume it was there -- which would definitely have been wrong -- scientists sought out other explanations. And those explanations led them into really esoteric places.

Following that path wasn't wrong: it's what scientists are supposed to do. But once we have the new data, and we have reverified that data several times to ensure that we aren't being misled this time too, we have to go back and revisit and revise everything, and chuck out the theories that don't support the facts.

That's the process of science: going back, testing our assumptions, making the same observations again and again, in new and different ways and from different directions. Making sure that we get the same results, or if we don't get the same results, understanding why we didn't, maybe correcting our experimental methods, or possibly stumbling upon another secret of the universe.

When we do, we often find we no longer need supernatural explanations to explain what we see -- or don't see.

Monday, February 17, 2014

President's Day Good Words #13

"Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities."

(Barack Obama, Sixth State of the Union Address delivered on January 28, 2014 during a joint session of the United States Congress)

President's Day Good Words #12

"Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

(Bill Clinton, First inaugural address, Washington, D.C. January 20, 1993)

President's Day Good Words #11

"We're going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary, and that's crazy. It's time we stopped it."

(Ronald Reagan, Remarks at Northside High School in Atlanta, Georgia, June 6, 1985)

President's Day Good Words #10

"In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose."

(Jimmy Carter, "Malaise Speech," July 15, 1979)

President's Day Good Words #9

"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

(John F Kennedy, American University Speech, June 10, 1963)

President's Day Good Words #8

"I am not worried about the Communist Party taking over the Government of the United States, but I am against a person, whose loyalty is not to the Government of the United States, holding a Government job. They are entirely different things. I am not worried about this country ever going Communist. We have too much sense for that. "

(Harry Truman, Responding to a question at his press conference (February 28, 1947); reported in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947, p. 191) 

President's Day Good Words #7

"In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. 

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. 

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. 

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. 

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."

(Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms Speech, January 6, 1941)

Presidents Day Good Words #6

"The government is us; we are the government, you and I." 

(Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at Asheville, North Carolina, 9 September 1902)

Presidents Day Good Words #5

"Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the Scriptures, and other works both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves."

(Abraham Lincoln, Address Delivered in Candidacy for the State Legislature, 9 March 1832)

A Global Science Experiment

The physics of climate change can be complicated to figure out because of all the different systems on earth: we know that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide increase global temperatures by trapping heat from the sun, but how does that interact with the ocean, the plants, and so on? How do scientists validate their models when they predict that temperatures will rise when the CO2 level goes up, and so will sea levels?

The answer's pretty simple: historical data. From the Times:
From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

For the entire period of human civilization, roughly 8,000 years, the carbon dioxide level was relatively stable near that upper bound. But the burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.

Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an epoch called the Pliocene. Geological research shows that the climate then was far warmer than today, the world’s ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher.
The concentration of CO2 is currently at about 400 parts per million. Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was 270 to 280 ppm. In just a few hundred years humanity has burned enough wood, gas, coal and oil to overpower all the natural CO2-absorbing mechanisms. We burn more than 20 billion tons of fossil fuels each year, and only half of that crap is absorbed naturally; the rest is still floating around in the air.

People frequently argue that people are "too small and insignificant" to change the planet's environment: but without even trying, we puny humans have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide across the entire globe by more than two-fifths in the time since the Declaration of Independence was signed.

If we continue on our current path, with China, India and other undeveloped countries increasing their use of fossil fuels as well, by 2100 we will increase CO2 levels to 900 ppm, more than three times the preindustrial level.

Some argue that historically, high CO2 levels were just a symptom of a warmer planet, and not the cause. We do know that there are cascading effects from a warming planet: CO2 and methane are escaping as the permafrost melts in the frozen tundra in Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon. But we also know the physics: as CO2 and methane levels increase, the greenhouse effect causes higher temperatures.

Once the temperature starts spiraling upward, it doesn't really matter what is cause and what is effect: adding more CO2 to the atmosphere is like throwing gasoline on a fire. If global warming isn't ultimately "our fault," it's especially important that we don't exacerbate the problem by tripling CO2 concentrations.

Do we really want to conduct an irreversible global science experiment to see who's right?

Presidents Day Good Words #4

"Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."

(James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, 10 July 1822)

President's Day Good Words #3

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law." 

(Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 1 Whether Christianity is Part of the Common Law (1764). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, p. 459.)

President's Day Good Words #2

"I read my eyes out and can't read half enough. ... The more one reads the more one sees we have to read." 

(John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams 28 December 1794).

President's Day Good Words #1

"Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country" 

(George Washington, letter to Benedict Arnold, 14 September 1775)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Protecting Numbskulls

The doorknobs in Georgia now want to make it legal to try to bring guns aboard airplanes.  That's not how they phrase it, but that's the effect:
Now gun-friendly lawmakers in Georgia want people licensed to carry a gun to avoid arrest if they accidentally bring their firearms into the security checkpoint at the country’s busiest airport and willingly leave the security line. It comes as gun rights groups in Georgia push state lawmakers to broaden the places where people can legally take guns, including churches and other houses of worship.
Why do they need this law? They don't want forgetful and incompetent gun owners to be arrested for trying to board a plane with a loose gun in their pocket or briefcase. They can't be bothered to think ahead or plan.

Of course, having a loose gun is dangerous in so many ways: it can simply go off if bumped or dropped (like the loaded shotgun some nitwit had in their baggage, or the pistols that fall out of suitcases, pockets, purses and waistbands and sometimes shooting their owners, spouses and innocent bystanders). A kid could find it while searching daddy's pocket for loose change. The attendant at the coat check at a restaurant could find it and give it to her drug-addict boyfriend.

Finally, this gives terrorists a free pass to find the best way to sneak guns onto planes.They can keep probing security without fear of arrest until they eventually learn to sneak a weapon in. I'm sure these gun nuts will write the law so that security can't track how often and who attempts to smuggle guns aboard airplanes, the same way they make the FBI discard background check data. You wouldn't want those forgetful nitwits to get a black mark against them for trying to bring a gun aboard a plane 20 times, or track terrorists amassing a major arsenal.

Oh, and the "license to carry" proviso is meaningless, since places like Georgia basically require that anyone who wants such a license will get it.

The main reason airport security works is that the bad guys don't know exactly what the TSA is looking for. If allowed to experiment without repercussions, terrorists will eventually learn the best way to sneak weapons aboard airplanes.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still wasting our time taking our shoes off and screwing around putting shampoo and toothpaste into stupid little plastic bags.

As with stand-your-ground laws, guys with guns want a free pass to screw up and not suffer the consequences for their mistakes. The problem is that when armed idiots make mistakes people wind up dead.

Gun nuts in Georgia are still actively campaigning to bring their weapons into churches and college campuses. Why not airports and airplanes? I mean, the logic is exactly the same: the more guns we have on airplanes, the safer we'll be. Right?

Do we really want laws that promote incompetent and careless weapons practices, allowing these folks to be even more oblivious about the guns bouncing around in their suitcases, pockets and waistbands?

Climate Change Lies

With John Kerry's pointed remarks on climate change yesterday, it's important to note the various arguments that the Church of the Climate Denier uses all the time and illustrate how they are lying. Here is a complete list of their assertions by popularity which are all linked to the evidence that shows how they are completely false. Take note of how one can examine the data from a basic, intermediate or advanced point of view with many of the falsehoods.

So, the next time you encounter the adolescent climate skeptic who just can't stand the fact that liberals are correct about something, show the this list. Ask them to refute the evidence using the same scientific method used in each of the links. Remind that "No, you are!!" and a stomp down the hallway with a door slam are not logic based arguments.

Inequality Myth #10

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Storming of the Bast--er--The Pick N Save

Dereck Simonsmeier loves his gun a lot and feels the need to carry it with him everywhere he goes. Of course, that means that he is attacked for his freedom loving at places like Pick N Save. Never mind the fact that it's private property and the owners of said firm can bounce his ass whenever they want. He needed to stand his ground! Why?

The cold had numbed my arms and severely restricted the movement of my hands and fingers. If I had needed to draw my weapon in the Pick ’N Save parking lot, I would have been unsuccessful.

That's right, kids! Villains lurk around every corner waiting to pounce and attack!!! Look out!!! There's Barack Obama and his commie pinkos comin' to gin us!! Perhaps Simonsmeier was the victim of just such a dastardly plot when he was arrested for threatening a man with a gun. What a shining example of a responsible gun owner.

And people wonder why I don't want armed civilians in our schools.

US Assets Outweigh US Debt

The next time you here someone blow a bowel over federal debt, show them this.
  • More than 900,000 separate real assets covering more than 3 billion sq. ft. 
  • Mineral rights, on and offshore, covering 2.515 billion acres of land, more than the total surface land in Canada -45,190 underutilized buildings, the operating costs of which are $1.66 billion annually 
  • Oil and gas resources on and offshore worth $128 trillion, roughly eight times the national debt of the country
This doesn't even include all of our military resources. Add that in and all of the obsessive focus on our debt is seen clearly as being irrational and hysterical. Even the Heritage Foundation agrees.

So, given these very simple facts, it seems that some folks have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes (see: lying) simply because they have a pathological hatred of the federal government (see also, unresolved issues with parents, authority, massive insecurity) and can't admit when they are wrong. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Anecdata a la Markadelphia

If I used the same logic as a conservative, I would say that MN Sure is doing just fine. Every person I know who has signed up for it has had no problems whatsoever with the site or the registration process. Yet that is not the actual case in reality. There have been some improvements of late but the web site has encountered significant problems during its tenure. This would be a great example of why anecdata is complete bullshit.

Any time you hear "Everyone I know..." at the beginning of a sentence, don't listen.

Younger People Signing Up For Health Insurance

Looks like younger folks are starting to sign up for health insurance.

Even more promising, the percentage of young adults — the coveted demographic considered key to making the insurance pools viable — rose 3 percentage points during January. People ages 18-34 now account for 27 percent of the total exchange enrollment, up from 24 percent in December. "The 65 percent growth rate" of young adults signing up "is larger than all other age groups combined," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters in a conference call.

Good news!

Inequality Myth #8

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Health Club Instead of Health Insurance?

A friend wanted to talk about the new health care law. First he heaped damning praise on Obama for frankly admitting that the young are expected to help pay for the old. Then he joked about how the ACA mandates that policies cover maternity care, which was supposed to be funny because my wife is beyond her childbearing years.

He seemed unaware of the irony. Obviously, it's the only fair thing to do: if the young are expected to help pay for the problems of old age, then the old should help pay for the problems of youth, as well as the care and upbringing of the next generation.

Policies under Obamacare also cover contraception, prenatal care, vaccinations for various childhood diseases like mumps and measles, as well as HPV and influenza: many of those conditions affect only babies, children, and young women. Even if you have moral objections to contraception, you shouldn't stand in the way of other people taking responsibility to avoid accidental pregnancy. Childrearing is expensive.

Policies also cover the problems old age brings: degenerative orthopedic conditions, stroke, cancer and heart disease. But young people aren't immune to car accidents, sprained ankles, broken legs and tumors. My sister had brain surgery to correct an aneurysm in her twenties. A couple of years ago our friends' 24-year-old daughter came down with non-Hodgkins lymphoma -- at first they diagnosed it as mumps. She was cured and the family didn't lose everything they owned in the process, because she was still on her parents' policy, courtesy of Obamacare.

The whole point of health care policies is to spread risk among a large population. We all pay in to help everyone else out when they need it, and they in turn help us out when we need it. When the people who are young now get old, their kids will pay in to help them out.

Everyone will need some kind of health care in their lifetimes, much of it non-emergency. That's why insurance is really the wrong concept. Having a child shouldn't be something that you insure against; it's not like your house getting hit by a tornado. It's a normal and necessary aspect of life, something that everyone needs to happen, even if we ourselves are childless. We need all sorts of regular health care: flu vaccinations, dental exams, physical checkups, breast and cervical exams, and so on.

Instead of thinking in terms of a car insurance policy where we choose whether we get coverage for liability and not collision, we should be thinking of health care premiums like a membership at a health club: I might not use the tennis and racquetball courts, but I do use the gym and the weight machines. And if want to take tennis lessons the courts are there.

By trying to segment up society, pretending that we're all independent islands that should survive on our own, that we'll never face certain problems, we isolate ourselves and make the nation as a whole weaker. We also create smaller risk pools that are more likely to have financial difficulties.

The private health insurance model we have now is clearly flawed and inefficient. There are huge cost discrepancies in different areas of the country, and still not everyone is covered. Those are the problems we should be working on. Together, in good faith, to make it better, instead of using fear to score political points.