Sunday, February 26, 2006

My nod to the 911 conspiracy theories

Among some of my friends, I'm the right wing conservative, because I don't think Bush and other top US officials purposefully caused the collapse of the Twin Towers. So far, the conspiracy arguments haven't persuaded me. A good rundown (from the wikipedia neutralish point of view) of the conspiracy theories is here.

The conspiracy theories often consider the 911 Commission to be part of a coverup. I've thought the 911 Commission did a good job of explaining what happened and making recommendations, but I've disliked its unwillingness to assign blame. My earlier thought was that Clinton clearly did a better job at fighting terrorism than Bush, so the Dems on the Commission could have gone after Bush, but they didn't just so they could achieve unanimity on recommendations.

My nod to conspiracy theories takes things one step further. Even if Clinton did more than Bush, he wasn't perfect. The 911 Commission could have been protecting Democrats as well as Republicans when it refused to assign blame.

As for other evidence in support of a conspiracy, there are some open issues still, but none of the claims have convinced me.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Arrgh! Which herd do I follow mindlessly?

I'm a normally-enthusiastic member of the "Bush Is Beyond Horrible" herd, which is quite upset over the whole Dubai Port World proposal to operate American ports. But my personal herd of blogs on the left (side of this website) think it's a feeding frenzy without a real security issue. I have no intention of thinking for myself (way too late for me to start doing that), so which herd do I follow?

This may be a Rorsach Test of attitudes toward globalization - those who consider globalization to be innately wrong are going to oppose it. As someone who's cautiously pro-trade, I guess I can stop right there and choose the "it's a freeding frenzy" perspective. If the antis can provide reasonable scenarios where the proposal would actually harm security, though, I might be forced to think. So far, I haven't heard any.

UPDATE: Okay, this says the port operators are also involved with security, so maybe it could be a problem. This media controversy could use some well-developed information. (Via Same Facts.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I take tests

Economics test #1: I passed this one, so apparently I understand the simple version of "opportunity cost." I remember something from undergrad after all.

Economics test #2: Failed this one, and it's especially annoying because the author didn't give an answer. It's about differentiating between fair trade coffee farming and free range chicken farming. I think Johan has the answer in the comments, if it matters.

As to the larger question the author raises about whether fair trade coffee does any good, I think the argument against it is weak - it really is a premium value added that's superior to regular coffee, not just a way to price discriminate. And if you believe the "unfair trade" coffee workers are paid as badly as their employers can get away with already, then the unfair trade employers can't push wages down all that much further when they lose market share to the fair traders. Michael G.'s comment about emphasizing quality production over social conscience might be the best solution, though.

Real world test: Enough with the exploited workers - what about my needs? I own a Toyota Prius, and I "needed" to install an "Electric Vehicle" switch that would keep the gas engine from turning on. This switch is already installed in Priuses sold outside of North America, and somebody figured out how to rewire our Priuses to enable the switch, and posted the instructions on the Internet. I did it without electrocuting myself. The directions said an average person would take two hours to do it; I took about six. Once again, I'm way above average.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Malkin emulating RP Jr.?

Michelle Malkin reprints an argument that climate-induced, rising sea levels are minor problems compared to land subsidence from groundwater depletion. This sounds to me to be very much like Roger Pielke Jr.'s argument that economic growth will be responsible for more hurricane damage than climate change, so we should "decouple" climate change and hurricane concerns.

Relative scale of impacts is fairly close in both cases - RP Jr. uses a 10% increase in damages from hurricanes, and a half-meter sea level rise is maybe 20% of the subsidence in some of the worst areas (Bangkok was terrible when I was there, and it's been over a decade for things to get worse).

I think "decoupling" climate policy from ocean flooding in subsiding cities is as problematic as decoupling it from hurricanes. These ten percent, twenty percent impacts add up (not literally, but in the sense of societal costs), and they all trace back to climate change.

Meanwhile I need to follow up more thoroughly on Roger's reply to my original post, but that might take a while.

FWIW, Michelle Malkin is one of the stranger right wing bloggers. She's famous for insane, anti-immigrant rhetoric, but she can on occasion be reasonable. She dislikes John Lott, for example. I'm not going to try and figure her out....

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My one Dick Cheney shotgunning post

1. I think it's unlikely-but-possible that Cheney and Co. thought they could cover up the shooting, and that would help explain their behavior. Next question if this is true: why did they think a coverup might work? Based on past experience? Seems like a legitimate question for Cheney is whether he's ever shot anyone before.

2. I'm not the only one who's noticed that Cheney's shooting victim was more apologetic than Cheney. What my lawyer side noticed is that Cheney acknowledged responsibility for shooting Whittington and said it ruined his day, but Cheney never acknowledged that he screwed up.

3. The only thing left that I can tell is to ask Cheney whether he accepts the victim's apology and forgives him. I guess it depends on whether Cheney believes that Whittington was sufficiently contrite and sincere in his apology.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Taylor v. Brock v. Althouse

Liberal blogger Brad DeLong wrote a scathing critique of Stuart Taylor (scroll to Feb. 11, permalink may have problems), who in turn wrote a scathing critique of the Bush Administration's Guantanamo Bay detainee policy. Taylor says most detainees are likely to be completely innocent people turned in for bounty money. Why did DeLong criticize someone who's criticizing Bush? DeLong points disgustedly to Taylor's many prior statements in support of the Bush Administration torture regime.

Contrast DeLong's reaction to the generally positive reaction David Brock has received for his book, Blinded By the Right, and his work at Media Matters. Brock had done much worse things in support of the Republican smear machine than anything Taylor said, until Brock repented. I think the key difference is that Brock came all the way around, and apologized and disassociated himself from his past. Taylor just ignored that it ever happened.

Then there's Ann Althouse, a supposedly moderate law blogger, who complains that she gets mostly affirmation from the right and mostly criticism from the left. I think she might be getting the Taylor reaction here - so many years of horror from the Bush Administration, and if all she does is an occasional nod of agreement to the left, she should not be surprised at the underwhelming response.

For what it's worth, I'm probably less critical of Taylor than DeLong, and more wary of Brock than most liberals. As for Althouse, I'm not sure her "moderateness" holds up. After seeing her moderate claim repeated yet another time, I scrolled through every post on her front page, several days ago (there were many, many posts). I counted one and one-half moderate/liberal posts. One said racism was a serious issue, and I gave half-credit for a post saying Bill Clinton has good political skills.

Of her remaining several dozen posts, half or more were apolitical. The rest were either supportive of the Republicans, critical of Democrats, or went on at great length over the horror of the Muslims rioting about the Danish cartoons. While liberals also oppose censorship, the obsession and self-righteousness over the cartoon mess is something I put in the conservative camp. Althouse may have some moderate to liberal views, but they're not a focus of her blog. She might yet make my "Readable Righties" list, but I'll have to think about it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bombing Iran is batsh*t crazy

There's a good internal dustup at Same Facts over the wisdom of America's bombing Iran soon or in several years to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. I agree with the "it's batsh*t crazy" faction (this post also pulls together the various arguments and responds to them).

The few points I can add:

  • I don't see any strategic or political advantage in the US attacking Iran instead of Israel - the attacking nation will get the majority share of terrorist retribution, so I can see why Israel might want us to do it, but not why we would.
  • The major problem with a nuclear Iran isn't that Israel couldn't respond to an overt, Iranian nuclear attack but rather an "unclaimed" nuclear bomb would explode in Israel. There's a way to handle it though. If I were Israel's prime minister, I would right around now use a communication channel to Tehran to tell them that if an Israeli city gets nuked by any unexplained bomb, Israel will pin the blame on Iran with real or fake evidence and retaliate massively. The slight upside from this will be that Iranian secret police will end up helping stop the potential flow of loose nukes from Pakistan or the former soviets.
  • My tied-for-best point - we'll be locked into a long-term bombing campaign against Iran if we start. Even assuming that Iran doesn't retaliate with terrorists, I give no chance that they'll abandon their nuclear program. Every five years, we'll have to do it again.
  • Other best point - the not-attacking Iran option is the only one that leaves open the possibility that no innocent people die. Not something we should throw away unless we really have no choice.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

January 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily military fatality rate (nearly all of them Americans): 2.1. December was 2.16, November was 2.87, and January 2005 was 4.1. Overall average to date is 2.33, same as last month. Total US dead as of today: 2248.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 194. December was 193, November was 176, and January 2005 was 109. Total dead: 4068.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 579. December was 344, November was 581, stats begin in March 2005: 240. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others, but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: American and Iraqi military deaths are somewhat low, civilian deaths in the medium-high range. News reports talk about increasing ethnic tensions - maybe groups are attacking each other instead of the authorities? I think we're still waiting to see how political negotiations work out in the new Iraqi parliament - that could change things in either direction, or maybe we'll just continue with the same violent level.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Breaking down the grades for Bush Administration science

Science got a surprising emphasis in yesterday's State of the Union speech by Bush. The President receives some well-deserved kicks from science bloggers, but I think it's useful to split up and grade the administration's general performance so far by category:


Use of science in politicized issues (global warming, evolution, etc.): F. I agree with almost everything Chris Mooney has had to say on this subject.

Support for non-politicized science issues (i.e., funding general research): B. This doesn't get as much attention, but under normal circumstances, this would be the most important part of any president's science policy. As far as I know, Bush has mostly avoided interfering as Congress has attempted to increase science funding. This would normally be the most important effect on science 50 years down the line, but we have an abnormal circumstance - Bush's fiddling while the globe warms. That could end up being even more important.

Supporting politicized science: D-plus. Slightly different from the first category - this isn't about using the science but about making that science better. On stem cells he gets an F, on climate change a B-minus (funding for research seems reasonable), endangered species research and Data Quality Act a D to a C.

Space science: C. Same grade I'd give previous administrations - a B for unmanned space science funding, and F for pretending that manned space has anything to do with science. Earlier last year there was an attempt to cut earth observation satellites, which I suspect was intended to slow the accumulating proof of climate change, but that's just a suspicion. Some other shenanigans like a nuclear ion engine to Pluto have been attempted and fought off.

It would be reasonable to reduce every grade by one full letter to reflect how Bush budget deficits will cripple us in the future on all matters, including science funding. As for his promised increases yesterday, I'll wait to see what he submits in terms of funding for the '07 fiscal budget.