Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rain Forests

I simply hate stories like this--and I know that hating is wrong to begin with. It makes it harder to distinguish between those who are thoughtful skeptics and those who are wackos. This is the second such story this week. On Friday this item on "Global Warming" went up on The Lowell Sun's web site. Seems a neighbor in Hudson, NH, the "first director of meteorology for TV's Weather Channel, Hudson resident Joseph D'Aleo," thinks we are heading into a period of Global Cooling.

Now we have The New York Times telling us that the tropical forests are growing back, just not where they have been going away. Next they will be saying that Global Warming Climate, they will never say that.

The headline is "New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Rain Forests," but you can never totally trust the headline writer to have actually read, let alone understood, the article.

The money quote might be this one:
Here, and in other tropical countries around the world, small holdings like Ms. Ortega de Wing’s — and much larger swaths of farmland — are reverting to nature, as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.
So, it looks like the folks best positioned to fix the rain forest problem are the economists, not the environmentalists--although the environmentalists are the ones who told us about the problem in the first place.

The other thing that seems important to me in understand this issue and the changing interactions is that people are part of nature also, part of the environment. I remember Representative Shirley Chisholm, when she was running for the Democratic Party nomination for President, back in late 1971 or early 1972, telling a group of college students in Denver that while they were worried about the ecology of the whales, she was worried about the ecology of the little children in Appalachia and in Inner Cities.

That year my dream ticket as Senator Scoop Jackson and Representative Shirley Chisholm. Never happened.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  Hat tip to the Instapundit.

Stimulating the Economy

I have been thinking about commenting on the efforts on Capitol Hill to pass a bill to stimulate the economy. There are enough ideas out there. Of course we have the recently passed HR1, from the US House of Representatives, the Stimulus Bill. All 647 double spaced pages can be read here. As a side issue, what do you, gentle reader, believe is the percentage of Congressmen who have read this bill, even skimmed it?

The Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), blogged about it on Friday. Here he talks about testifying before Congress this last week.

Then there is the Rush Limbaugh/Barak Obama Plan, as Mr Limbaugh calls his proposal, developed in response to the President singling him out as an obstacle to progress.

The comment of a local Economist was interesting, and represents the Calvin Coolidge view of things. Roughly what he said was that the best thing Washington could do for the economy would be to take a long vacation and let the Federal Reserve try to fix the current problem--followed by a comment on the need for consumers to stop spending and start saving. Ah, there is the trick. Real recovery needs savings, which are invested by private and publicly help firms, creating jobs.

Today comes The Lowell Sun with an OpEd by Editor Jim Campanini. Mr Campanini covers a lot of ground in a short period of time. First off he is worried that the stimulus is not creating "new, dynamic jos for America." (Does that go back to the Econ Prof and investment?) Mr Campanini praises construction jobs for improving our infrastructure (and it does need improvement), but notes that when those jobs end, then end. He mentions job re-training, but asks about what it is for and suggests flipping burgers.

Mr Campanini points out that the Federal Government needs "to restructure America's job foundation." I agree with that. To say this is not to call for socialism. Each and every tax law in some way restructures America's economy, encouraging this and discouraging that. I need to learn a lot more about economics, but at this point I do not believe there is such a thing as a "neutral tax."

John Maynard Keynes and his followers said that when there is a recession we need to stimulate the economy. His thinking was that consumption drove the economy. A Time Magazine article in 1965 said: "Washington's economic managers scaled these heights by their adherence to Keynes's central theme: the modern capitalist economy does not automatically work at top efficiency, but can be raised to that level by the intervention and influence of the government."

WARNING: "Two nations separated by a common language." Keynes was British. To him a liberal is one who believes in free markets.

So, this is a blog and I should have an opinion. Frankly, I don't know enough to have an opinion. I do believe, however, that most of those voting in Congress on the $800 billion plus stimulus bill know little more than I. So, I will venture forth the opinion that we need some stimulus, a la Keynes, but we really need to be structuring our taxes and our laws so that we encourage investment and also lending by banks to those who will create jobs--new, dynamic, innovative, export market jobs. Today's Boston Globe suggests that with regard to lending, we are going in the opposite direction. Hat tip to my wife for that article.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  Buy today's Sun. There is an interesting letter to the Editor on GITMO.

The Weather

The Company I work for, from time to time, is spread out across the country. The Contract I have been working on, which ended yesterday, is also a distributed effort, with people in Orlando, Florida, and also just north of Clearwater, but also Radcliff, KY and Andover (that would be me). Yesterday was our target for delivering our final report. The data was on a computer in Orlando, to be printed and burned to CDs in Andover and to be delivered to our customer at Fort Knox by our person in Radcliff, KY.

We did all that and shipped overnight on Thursday. But, there was no delivery, due to weather. I had a Cell Phone conversation with the team member in Kentucky yesterday after lunch. He told me that Fort Knox was closed for the third straight day yesterday, due to lack of power. My associate told me that it was going to be a week to ten days before everyone gets their power back.

In the meantime, another storm is on the way toward Kentucky, arriving on Monday AM. Then it heads up to visit us.

My associate/friend in Kentucky, and his wife, are going to spend the weekend with their daughter in Cincinnati. Sometimes it is useful to have relatives close, but not so close they are in the same disaster area.

Regards -- Cliff

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Veep Speaks

I expect that this will become a recurring theme over the next few years, so it is getting its own category--Bidenisms.

From last Saturday's The Boston Globe:
I know as much or more than Cheney. I'm the most experienced vice president since anybody
I grant you that Vice President Biden was in the Senate for a long time. But, Vice President Chaney (full disclosure here--I didn't like Mr Chaney as VP, or even as SecDef) had been Chief of Staff to President Ford and Secretary of Defense, plus time as a member of the House of Representatives, including as Minority Whip. I think Vice President Biden is stretching here, and falling short.

Then there is this from CBS
In his first interview as Vice President, Joseph Biden told CBS News' Bob Schieffer that he does not see his role to be "deputy president." Rather, said he hopes to be a "confidant, advisor and essentially the last guy in the room when [President Obama] makes critical decisions."

Appearing on Face The Nation this morning, Biden was asked how he views his role in comparison to his predecessor Dick Cheney, arguably the "single most powerful vice president."

Biden responded that "hopefully" he can "help shape policy" with President Obama, noting that "thus far that is how it has worked."

"The agreement that he and I made is that I would be available for every single major decision that he makes … that I would have all the paper, all the material, all the meetings," he said. "Again, not for me to make decisions, [but] for me to give the best advice that I can give."

The Vice President explained that before he agreed to become Obama's running mate, he said, "I don't want to be on the ticket unless you are hiring me on for my judgment."
I am not going there at this time.

I will say that I was relieved to hear that Vice President Biden does not see himself as the "Deputy President." As I have argued here before, there is good reason to keep the Vice President separated from the President in terms of allowing for a clean break in the event of impeachment or resignation.

That said, the fact that Vice President Biden gets to see all the paperwork for decisions is a good thing. There are a lot of people who question President Harry S Truman's decision with regard to the use of nuclear weapons to end World War II. While I am not sure the outcome would have been different, I do think that he would have benefited from having known about the Manhattan project from the beginning of his term of office, so he could have had more time to ask questions and consider the implications of using such a powerful weapon. Granted, he did have several months, but he also no longer had the leisure of being the Vice President in which to contemplate the issues.

Regards  --  Cliff

Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Obama and his Defense Strategy

The question of what President Barak Obama has in mind for fighting the global war on terrorism--the "Long War"--is still open. However, Jonathan Stray, in this Blog Post, titled "Social Network of US Counterinsurgency Policy Authors," tries to give us some idea.

I know, the title makes the article sound boring, but hang with me. The Article takes a lot of thinking, but here are some key paragraphs:
In an effort to get some perspective on at least one major aspect of American military strategy, I decided to plot out all the authors of (public) counterinsurgency policy over the last decade, and the relationships between them.

The resulting network shows that the Obama administration is relying heavily on the talents of a group called the Center for A New American Security (CNAS), which has close ties to the authors of the most recent US Army counterinsurgency manual. This means that Obama is unlikely to break with the current military strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan — but even if he wanted to, could he? Counterinsurgency is difficult, and many, many people die when you do it wrong; you can’t simply make this stuff up, so the choices are necessarily among existing clusters of people and policy.

The graph also suggests that the only quasi-independent body of COIN policy is centered around the RAND Corporation, who may not hold a terribly different opinion. If this analysis is correct, then Obama cannot rapidly change the military’s course in fighting these wars, because there simply do not exist credible alternative policies at this time. His only options for change in America’s handling of Iraq and Afghanistan lie outside of the scope of military strategy — perhaps through high level political or economic interventions.
All of these relationships are depicted in this graph, which depicts the degrees of separation amongst the key players.

  • President Barak Obama is in BLUE.

  • The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is in RED. Notice Michele Flournoy, who was President of CNAS and co-founder, along with Kurt Campbell. Now Ms Flournoy has been nominated for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy--a key appointment.

  • The authors of the Army's FM 3-24, the Counterinsurgency Doctrine, are in Green. (This is also the USMC Doctrinal manual). Note General David Petraeus, current Commander of US Central Command is here. Missing is Dr Conrad Crane.

  • The chap in YELLOW, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife:  Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. John Nagl was also one of the authors of FM 3-24, so could be in GREEN, but he got out of the Army to become a commentator.

  • In LIGHT BLUE is the RAND Corporation, which has been writing about COIN since French Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) David Galula produced Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice while on assignment to RAND in the early 1960s.

  • The GRAY represents the other players, some of whom are important (or may be important), such as Samantha Power, who is working on the State Department transition. Dr Steven Metz is at the Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute. Andrew F Krepinevich is a retired Army Colonel and defense critic at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. I think the Sarah Sewell mentioned is really Sarah Sewall, at the JFK School at Harvard.
And then look at the CNAS board members. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair to head us US Intelligence. William Lynn to be Deputy Secretary of Defense. Madeleine K. Albright, from a the previous Democratic Administration. And Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, USMC, ret, an early critic of the Bush Administration policy in Iraq.

Then there is always someone to say that this is all wrong. That honor could go to Spencer Ackerman. Mr Ackerman doesn't like this kind of analysis, and with some reason. Still, it is a way of looking at the new Administration and helping to see where it is going.

So, what do I conclude from this? Counterinsurgency is still "in" for the US Military and it looks like we will be in Afghanistan for a while. But, we will be pulling our combat forces out of Iraq (where they are much less needed these days). How does that French phrase go? "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Wait, that can't be right. Isn't it all about hope and change?

Seriously, thought, we need to have a national talk about Afghanistan, but it may be exactly the right place to double down, given all the problems in the area. And, we need to understand what withdrawal from Iraq means. And, most important of all, we need to know how all this racks and stacks against what is going on in the United States of Mexico.

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Outback Question of the Week

I had this great question--or so I thought--but then I couldn't find the authoritative answer(s).

So, the Outback Question of the Week is this--who is the new Speaker of the House in the Massachusetts Great and General Court?

For bonus points, there is a Grunge/Hard Rock guitar player by the same name. Name a band this person has played for.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  The other question was the number of political appointees President Barak Obama gets to nominate to the Senator or just appoint. I think the number for the Department of Defense is 46 who need confirmation by the US Senate, plus another 600 who don't need Senate Confirmation. On the other hand, Washington's WTOP radio station says that there are a little more than 200 appointees for DoD.

Nominations don't come all at once. But, some sub-cabinet nominations have been made, including Dr John P. Holdren, of Massachusetts, to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, vice John H. Marburger, III.

The Speaker Going Away

In today's Boston Globe is an opinion piece by Yvonne Abraham, titled "How low can we go?" Her subject was the Speaker of the Massachusetts House and the collection of recent and future speakers.

Ms Abraham has an early paragraph on the status of the House:
There's a lot at stake here. DiMasi is the third speaker in a row to resign under an ethical cloud. As a result, the public standing of legislators has sunk to spectacularly low levels.
My problem with this paragraph is that it suggests that there isn't much left to go in terms of the sinking. I think that is "spectacularly" wrong. Twenty-two and a bit months from now the voters will again go to the polls. But, it won't be some 95% of those eligible to vote, all raging for reform. It will be more like 50 or 55 percent. Of those who do go to the polls, the vast majority will vote to put back into office the 200 members of the current Great and General Court who elect to run for re-election.

I know that Ms Abraham is outraged by what is happening in the House, and rightfully so. She is properly outraged by the passing of the corruption torch to Representative Robert DeLeo, a Democrat from Winthrop. I am with her in her outrage.

However, how outraged is she?

She is all over the new Speaker, Mr DeLeo, but I think we are going to need a bit more house cleaning than getting a clean Speaker. Lets look at the State Senate and former State Senator Diane Wilkerson, who was captured on TV a couple of years ago, after a contentious vote, saying that "the ends justify the means." And, apparently, her financial well being justified taking bribes. Yes, she was bullied into resigning. However, we didn't hear calls for a "house cleaning." No, we got someone new to replace her, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

I expect that Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is a straight shooter. But, it is going to be hard to do this "house cleaning" one seat at a time.

So, how outraged is Columnist Yvonne Abraham?
  • Is she prepared to write me a check for $500.00 so I can run against Democratic Party State Rep David Nangle? (And why does my Rep get a stub in Wikipedia and Diane Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Diaz get actual entries? I am leaving this to Marie or Lynne or Mimi or Dick for now.)
  • Is she prepared to write a letter to my wife (or a column) saying why she (my wife) should fully support me running for office?
  • Is she prepared to put her reporter's eyes on such a campaign, or a like campaign, giving support to the idea that a lot of people should be running, giving voters an option?
Is it going to take a perp-walk of a dozen members of the Great and General Court before people:
  1. Decide to put a new slate of people into office.
  2. Decide as a group that we are better off when the minority party has enough votes in one or the other house to sustain a Governor's veto
I await the day.

In the mean time, remember the bumper sticker--Beacon Hill is Broken.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS:  I used the term "perp-walk," but I don't like the process. Some day I will blog about why I think perp-walks are a sign of prosecutorial corruption.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration Photo

Here is a great picture of the Inauguration.

With this lash-up you can zoom in to see Yo Yo Ma using his cell phone to take a picture of the President (he is behind the President, so on the left). You can also check the tag number on a fire extinguisher to the left rear of the US Marine Corps band. It is really interesting.

My source, my Brother-in-Law, got it from his high school buddy, who had this to say:
Zoom in ('double-click' an area) ....and watch it focus. Then zoom some more... and wait for focus.

This picture was taken with a robotic camera and weighs in at 1,474 megapixel. (295 times the standard 5 megapixel camera). It was a Canon that pulled together over 200 individual shots.

Each zoom-in takes a second to focus ... and then you can see some amazing reactions.
Regards --  Cliff

Who Would Have Guessed?

In this day of open government, being ushered in by the new President's greater acceptance of the new information technologies, even the Director of the Congressional Budget Office has a blog. A hat tip to Instapundit for this little "inside baseball" information.

The blog (home page here) came to light over a dispute about the CBO scoring the Stimulus Package (that would be HR1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). At this location the director talks about what they think the long term outcome will be of the current Stimulus Package.

The spending and tax relief are spread out over a number of years, so if we expect this to be a long recession, it will be working right up to the end. If we expect a short recession it will still be working as we are in the recovery. The time period examined by the CBO is out to 2019.
Assuming enactment in mid-February, CBO estimates that the bill would increase outlays by $92 billion during the remaining several months of fiscal year 2009, by $225 billion in fiscal year 2010 (which begins on October 1), by $159 billion in 2011, and by a total of $604 billion over the 2009-2019 period. That spending includes outlays from discretionary appropriations in Division A of the bill and direct spending resulting from Division B.

In addition, CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that enacting the provisions in Division B would reduce revenues by $76 billion in fiscal year 2009, by $131 billion in fiscal year 2010, and by a net of $212 billion over the 2009-2019 period.
We are rushing into the second phase of stimulating the economy, the TARP having already been launched. We have to move quickly, but we do need to put some minimum thought into this. Otherwise we will have things like Senator Dodd getting us million dollar voting machines that have been scrapped before they were even used. For those counting, it is day 186 since the Good Senator from Conn promised to release his mortgage documents.

Regards  --  Cliff

Monday, January 26, 2009

Anniversary Day

Today, the 26th of January, is Australia Day, also known as Anniversary Day and Foundation Day. It is the official national day of Australia, celebrated annually on 26 January.

On the other hand, due to the international date line, they are already into Tuesday and have gone back to work.

Why do we care? Because Australia has been a staunch friend and ally of ours since Pearl Harbor day. We should help our friends celebrate their birthdays.

The day itself commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove and the proclamation of British sovereignty over
the eastern seaboard of Australia. Australia Day is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, and is marked by the Order of Australia and Australian of the Year awards, along with an address from the Prime Minister.

But, for the average Aussie it is celebrated much as we would do. As one Aussie put it:
Thanks for pointing this out. As with much of our sophisticated culture, Australia Day is steeped in ancient tradition and ceremony. It consists primarily of a day off work, a barbecue with mates and drinking more than one should, all while enjoying the glory of summer. The general goal is to do as little as humanly possible while relaxing to the greatest possible extant - it's a great and highly appropriate holiday.
And here are some photos showing the day. If you click over to photo nine you will see, passing in front of the Sydney Opera House, the Aussie version of the famous Boston "Duck" Boats.

Happy Anniversary Day, Aussies.

Regards  --  Cliff

New Local Lowell Blog

I was over at "Left-in-Lowell" and saw where there is a new local blog--well, new to me. The blog is "adventures of the mohards." The theme seems to be dining out in Lowell. The current post at the blog is a review of La Boniche.

This is a good way to find new places to eat.

Regards -- Cliff

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Booth Family Tradition?

This is an interesting item. It turns out that Junius Brutus Booth, the Father of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, wrote a letter to President Andrew Jackson, threatening to slit his throat if he didn't pardon two prisoners who were on trial for piracy.

The actual term used was:
I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping.
Apparently, threatening to kill the President was not a crime back then. At least that is the assertion of biographer Robert V. Remini.

While not a key event in history, it is an interesting historical anecdote. And a hat tip to that famous resident of Tennessee, Professor Glenn Reynolds.

Regards -- Cliff

Now says DiMasi to Go

Thanks to Red Mass Group for a pointer to this report. The Boston Globe is now reporting that Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is resigning as of Tuesday of this week.

He is going "head high," or so he says.

Here is a link to his letter to his colleagues in the House. This is not a letter of resignation, but rather a letter of intent.

As I have previously posted, this is just treating a symptom and not the disease that infects Beacon Hill. Only the voters can cure that disease and the course of treatment will be painful, but not as painful, over the long run, as continuing the current corrupt system.

Or, are we going for some sort of record for Speakers who left office under an ethical cloud?

Here is Richard Howe's blog posting with a local spin.

And Mimi, from Left in Lowell has this post with a question about the future of the progressive agenda. As an aside, I like the left using the term progressive, so those of us who are pegged as being on "the right" can reclaim liberal, which FDR stole from us back in the 1930s.

Regards -- Cliff

Pundits and Government

A couple of days ago Professor Elliot Cohen had an OpEd in The Wall Street Journal concerning the relationship between pundits and government policy. The OpEd, "How Government Looks at Pundits," talks about the gulf between government policy makers and the pundits, but also talks about how pundits can influence policy.

On the one hand, it tells us how isolated government policy makers can be.
My first, sobering observation is that government pays only intermittent attention to talk on the outside. To a remarkable extent, in fact, government talks only to itself.
Then he tells us that those on the outside don't really know what is going on:
Most commentators have a radically imperfect view of what's going on. Those on the inside, including at the very top, know more, though less than one might think. Government resembles nothing so much as the party game of telephone, in which stories relayed at second, third or fourth hand become increasingly garbled as they crisscross other stories of a similar kind ("That may be what the Russian national security adviser said to the undersecretary for political affairs on Wednesday, but it's not how the Turkish foreign minister described the Syrian view to our ambassador to NATO on Thursday.") Add to this the effects of secrecy induced by security concerns, as well as by the natural desire to play one's cards close to one's vest, and the result is a well-nigh impenetrable murk of policy making.
Think how much harder it must be to really understand what is going on on Beacon Hill, given that they strive for opaqueness.

Professor Cohen does have advice for the pundit:
What, then, is a pundit to do? The best commentary has an impact, less because it offers new ideas (most ideas have been considered, however incompletely, on the inside) than because it clarifies problems or solutions that the insiders have only vaguely or incompletely considered. A tight, well-written, and carefully reasoned examination of a policy problem will bring into focus an issue that the officials have not had the time, or often the literary skill, to capture precisely. That kind of analysis is very much worth reading.
And he provides advice:
Invariably, a pundit will prescribe solutions. In doing so, he should follow the advice of the late Raymond Aron, the wisest French policy intellectual of modern times: Never criticize a policy unless you can convincingly depict a better course of action. Aron, like many of the greatest commentators on policy, had virtually no experience in government, but great empathy for those in a position to decide. Empathy -- the capacity for imagining what it is like to be the other -- is an essential quality for the thoughtful pundit. Policy makers, of course, prefer sympathy, which is soothing, unnecessary and often harmful.
All of which is good advice for those of us in the blogosphere.

Regards  --  Cliff

al Qaeda and the Plague

So now we have The Washington Times saying that al Qaeda was conducting biological warfare experiments in Algeria. The report, here is pretty sketchy on details but does manage to mention the term plague.

The core of the report is here:
He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda's leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official.

"We don't know if this is biological or chemical," the official said.

The story was first reported by the British tabloid the Sun, which said the al Qaeda operatives died after being infected with a strain of bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe's population in the 14th century. But the intelligence official dismissed that claim.
Thus, we have The Sun saying it was bubonic plague (and updating that report here), but a US intelligence official--an anonymous source--saying not so. This might lead folks to believe the US "leak" was more about knocking down the bubonic plague rumor and not so much about confirming the initial report of the problem with al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb. With leaks out of DC one needs to be very careful.

But, what is the plan that al Qaeda has in mind? Is it to strike terror, bringing down governments (a la Spain on 11 March 2004) or to have a major impact on Western economic or military capabilities, or both? Since the widespread use of biological or chemical weapons has never been decisive in the past, there is the question of if mass casualties can be created with such weapons. For sure, there are plenty who will tell us that biological or chemical weapons are a potent force. Only in the event will we know for sure.

But, back to al Qaeda, do they have to kill several hundred thousand people to have an impact or is it enough to have a few cases in each of several different locations to create chaos?

One commenter has asked:
Can Islamism disrupt Western civilization, to the point where many of the joints and linkages that we currently take for granted are broken or attenuated?

..., can Islamism engender sufficient threat so as to compel Western civilization to change in ways that we would find unappealing (at best), appalling, or even fundamentally antithetical?
I am voting that we can come together as a People and overcome such a challenge. That said, we have to be careful of the way we go about it. As someone else commented on the thread from which I lifted the above quote, Athens lost its democracy in fighting a foe over a long period. We are lucky in that we have Athens as an example.

Regards  --  Cliff

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Speaker DiMasi

Yes, I am slow out of the gate on this one. The Lowell Sun had it yesterday afternoon and Marie had a blog on it soon thereafter (1543 on Friday). Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F DiMasi is supposed to resign, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Dick Howe has a roundup of news here, including a Post by Lynne Lupia of Left-in-Lowell, but at Blue Mass Group. The Boston Globe seems slow out of the gate on this one--just like me. It didn't even make the front page of the web site at 1430 today. I wonder how Emily Rooney will treat that this coming Friday?

Back to The Globe, they had this quote from Majority Leader John Rogers (D):
"As rumors abound, the phone is ringing off the hook," said Rogers in an interview. "During these fiscally tumultuous times members of the House want proven leadership to steer us through these times. . . . That's why they've been calling me all day because of my proven track record as the past chairman of House Ways and Means Committee, offering fiscal recovery budgets that led us out of difficult times."
That seems self-assured.

My thought on the reported resignation is that it all seems to be coming very fast. There must be a lot we are not seeing. Perhaps the US Attorney's office in Boston is on the ball with this one and has given him a nudge. We sure don't need something like the Impeachment Proceedings in Illinois to get in the way of government during this time of trying to get the State budget straight (See the Rep Rogers statement quoted above).

However, my caution is that the resignation of the Speaker will not cure what is wrong on Beacon Hill. This is treating a symptom and not dealing with the underlying cause. Those folks up there are too friendly. What is needed is a little competition--and I am not talking about the left wing vs the right wing. Both wings are on the same chicken. We need two chickens. In the long run it will be better for all of us if there is real competition on Beacon Hill.

That said, the hard part is figuring out how to make that happen, and getting people to invest in what has been for years a failing cause. Anyone out there want to pony up a minimum of $20,000 and half a year of their life to run what could well be a losing race?

Regards -- Cliff

PS Cross Posted to the LRCC Blog.

Jon Steward Reports

I haven't yet learned how to post videos to the blog, so I provide below a link to a video, which is posted at the blog site of Julie, from Dallas. Yes, being from Dallas she backed President Bush, and thus she enjoyed this Jon Stewart show clip with Reporter Jason Jones talking about President Obama's Inaugural Speech--which I liked (the speech, that is). That said, the speech did not get points for soaring rhetoric and great catch phrases.

Here is Julie's post, titled:  "It's Funny Because It's True."

Regards -- Cliff

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of our parent nations. The Pilgrims sailed from the Netherlands to come here. The Dutch colonized New York (then New Amsterdam). After the British, the largest number of US Presidents have Dutch roots--and not just Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. The Dutch have always been a symbol of tolerance. In the 1970s I heard about Corrie ten Boom and her experiences shielding Jews during WWII--and getting arrested in the process, along with other members of her family.

So, when I read here about what is happening to Dutch Parliametarian Geert Wilders, I was somewhat concerned. (Hat tip to Instapundit.) The Samizdata post, by Libertarian Perry de Havilland, out of London, quoted a news source as follows:
The three judges said that they had weighed Mr Wilders's "one-sided generalisations" against his right to free speech, and ruled that he had gone beyond the normal leeway granted to politicians.

"The Amsterdam appeals court has ordered the prosecution of member of parliament Geert Wilders for inciting hatred and discrimination, based on comments by him in various media on Muslims and their beliefs," the court said in a statement.

"The court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders," it added.
Since Mr de Havilland strikes me as a level headed thinker, I asked my friend Ron Smits what he thought. I asked Ron because he was a Dutch citizen for about four decades, before settling in the US. Besides, he is a fellow fighter pilot. Who would I trust more? He took the question and posted his thoughts on his Blog. Read his comments here.

Then there is this post by Bruce Bawer, whose article Submission in the Netherlands, is a tour of those who have opposed the growth in the Netherlands of closed communities which practiced Islamic customs contrary to normal Dutch social conventions. He mentions the late member of Parliament, Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated. He mentions film producer Theo van Gogh, who was assassinated on an open street. He mentions former member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has renounced Islam and fleed to the United States. And he mentions Parliamentarian Geert Wilders.

We have the convenience and the time to watch this unfold in the Netherlands and to then draw our own conclusions on the balance between tolerance of differences and the acceptable degree of free speech to condemn practices, religious or cultural, with which we do not agree.

With our strong belief in free speech, we may not be too happy with limits on that free speech. On the other hand, to what degree should we be tolerant to others insulting those who believe differently from ourselves.

There are millions out there who think that Roman Catholics, such as myself, are going to spend eternity in Hell because we are following the Anti-Christ. Not lots of millions, but several. There are those who think Jews are evil. Then there are those who think all Muslims are terrorists. At this point it is my view that such opinions are to be tolerated, but acts against any group, including acts of intimidation, are to be condemned. And, that applies whether the group is a poor, persecuted minority or a small, ugly and bigoted group of dead-enders.

Regards  --  Cliff

May the Force Be With You

I am not sure I know who Kathleen Parker really is, but I thought this opinion piece was nicely balanced. I am not a follower of Ms Parker's columns but was intrigued by the title--which I assume belongs to the editors and not the writer--"Karmic Justice."

Ms Parker is the person who called for Governor Sarah Palin to step down as the Republican VP candidate in last year's election. She received some comments and wrote about the responses in one column:  "Allow me to introduce myself. I am a traitor and an idiot. Also, my mother should have aborted me and left me in a dumpster, but since she didn't, I should have myself." There is someone with a sense of humor.

Because of my affection for former British PM Tony Blair and for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, I liked this point:
And former French President Jacques Chirac was taken to the hospital after being bitten by his pet Maltese poodle. The pup was being treated for depression, apparently unsuccessfully.

Somewhere, Tony Blair is smiling.
She also has some Karmic Justice for us, the Citizens of this Great Republic:
Obama didn't use the precise words, but he implied in his inaugural address that our current crises are karmic justice for decades of self-indulgence, greed and irresponsibility. It's not that we necessarily deserve a collapsed economy, two wars and a warming planet, but we can't place all the blame elsewhere.

Urging a new era of responsibility -- long the rallying cry of conservatives -- Obama was essentially invoking ancient scripture: "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

As presidential mantras go, we could do worse. May good karma be with him.
So, let us all resolve to do better and may the karma be with us.

Regards -- Cliff

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hamas and Obama

Looking to Al Jazeera we find a report on President Obama's comments and the response from Hamas regarding the Gaza issue.

The article quotes the US President's remarks are during the ceremony appointing former Senator George Mitchell as US special envoy for the Middle East:
Obama said he was "deeply concerned" about the loss of life in Gaza and also reiterated the US view that Israel had a right to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks.

"It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbours," Obama said.

"Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace. As part of a lasting ceasefire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce," Obama said.

Obama also reiterated the US backing for international demands made of the Hamas faction that governs Gaza: that it recognise Israel, end violence and agree to recognise previous peace agreements with Israel.

He also said the US would support efforts to end weapons smuggling across the Gaza border from Egypt.
The report includes this response from Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan:
"I think this is an unfortunate start for President Obama in the region and the Middle East issue. And it looks like the next four years, if it continues with the same tone, will be a total failure."
The preceding two paragraphs in the report were:
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera that Obama's remarks seemed to show that the US viewed the situation through "Israeli eyes".

"It seems that Obama is trying to repeat the same mistakes that George Bush made without taking into consideration Bush's experience that resulted in the explosion of the region instead of reaching stability and peace in it," he said.
While President Obama has promised a new beginning and an end to the Bush foreign policies, I am thinking that it is still going to be an uphill battle to achieve peace in the Middle East.

However, it isn't always about us.

Regards  --  Cliff

Blogging in Uniform

The Commanding General of at least one US Army Division, the 10th Mountain, has taken up blogging. (My wife's Uncle fought with the 10th Mountain in Italy during WWII, the Big One, as did former Senator Bob Dole.)

This article on the General blogging, by Noah Shachtman, was interesting to me. Mr Noah Shachtman links technology with national security. He is a contributing editor of Wired magazine and the editor of "Danger Room," its national security blog.

One interesting comment from Major General Michael Oates was captured in this paragraph:
Ironically, Oates had to wait until he got over to Iraq to start his social media push; a lumbering military bureaucracy kept him from blogging, while his troops were stationed at Ft. Drum. "We did not get anywhere with it while we were in the United States because the rules, procedures, policies, and regulations are extremely inhibiting to doing that sort of thing."
The General then comments on the "security issues" that have been raised about the military use of blogs and other venues:
Oates finds the security concerns overblown. "I think its a normal institutional reaction, conservative reaction to information," he tells Danger Room. "But I tend to think that's a very minor thing; most soldiers don't have critical, national-security-sensitive information. They just don't possess that kind of information, so I don't see that as a problem."
I think that is spot on. Sometimes security concerns are more of a hindrance than a help.

I noted while reading the article that families were part of the 10th Mountain Division blogosphere.

In a related item, all the students at the US Army Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, are required to run a blog. These are Majors, attending an "intermediate" service school. (Later, many of them will be selected ot attend one or another of the Service and joint War Colleges. For the Army that would normally be the Army War College, at Carlisle Barracks, PA.) These blogs are out on the NIPRNET--the unclassified net, so to speak, and not behind some classified firewall.

And for those who want to follow a general blog from the Army's Combined Arms Center (CAC), there is this.

This is all good news.

Regards  --  Cliff

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Outback Question of the Week

The Outback Question of the Week is "Where is the Vice President's residence."

For extra points, who lived there before it became the Vice President's residence?

Finally, is the Vice President part of the Legislative branch or the Executive branch of the US Federal Government, and why do you think so?

The "why do you think so" is an important part of the question.

For those who wish to know, Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom, while in office, lived at 1448 Z Street, with the other borders.

Regards  --  Cliff

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Vice President

Vice President Joe Biden, in his few words at the end of today's luncheon in Statuary Hall after the Inauguration, included this:   "and my new boss, Barak Obama."

I am with that small group that believes that the Vice President is not part of the Administration of the winning ticket. That is to say, he does not work for the President. The US Constitution does not have him working for the President. The Constitution has him as an "air spare," in case the President drops out. The Constitution does give him something to do--preside over the US Senate and vote to break ties.

I know that puts me in the Dick Chaney camp. Sometimes these things happen.

I don't mind the Vice President cooperating with the President and carrying out tasks for the President. But, we need to keep in mind that he does not work for the President.

You work for the President if he can fire you. The President can not fire the Vice President. He can drop him from the ticket at the next election, but that is not the same thing.

This distinction between the Office of the Vice President and that of the President has some important implications if it comes to Impeachment of the President. We shouldn't wish to have the Vice President too closely associated with the President and the President's actions, in the event the Congress decides to Impeach the President. If the VP is too close to the President, the Congress may have to Impeach them both. Then it is the Speaker of the House who succeeds to the Office of President.

I think it is wrong for the VP to have a major office in the White House.

As Glenn Reynolds noted in his blog:
What’s more, Vice Presidents, until Spiro Agnew, got their offices and budgets from the Senate, not the Executive Branch. The legislative character of that office is traditional — treating the VP as part of the Executive Branch, and a sort of junior co-President, is a recent and, to my mind, unwise innovation. That’s discussed at more length in this article from the Northwestern University Law Review
Back in June of 2007 there was this item in the Volokh Conspiracy:
For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information, and when the office in charge of overseeing classification in the executive branch objected, the vice president’s office suggested that the oversight office be shut down, according to documents released today by a Democratic congressman.

[O]fficials familiar with Mr. Cheney’s view said that he and his legal adviser, David S. Addington do not believe the executive order applies to the vice president’s office because it has a legislative as well as an executive status in the Constitution. . . .

. . . Mr. Addington stated in conversations that the vice president’s office was not an "entity within the executive branch" because, under the Constitution, the vice president also plays a role in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, able to cast a vote in the event of a tie.
This is a quote from an article in The New York Times.

I think that Vice President Chaney has tried to have it both ways. But, that doesn't invalidate either one view or another.

I come down on the side that says that the Vice President is not part of the Administration, and his office and expenses should come out of the US Senate. That said, I believe that anything the President invites the Vice President to do (be it going to the funeral of a head of state or running a commission on space travel or some other activity), the Vice President can take on. I think the President should not involve the Vice President in day-to-day activities, but should keep him informed. We don't want a repeat of the President Truman experience of finding out about nuclear power only weeks before he had to decide if he was going to employ a nuclear weapon against an enemy.

Regards  --  Cliff

James Carroll on Inaugurations

Columnist James Carroll is going on sabbatical to write a book, and won't be back until 4 May. But, before taking off from his work at The Boston Globe he penned one last column, this one on Inaugurations. Titled "My Inaugurations," it chronicles the Inaugurations of his lifetime, going back to his Mother taking him (at age one) to the 1945 Fourth Inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He mentions how he and his older brother took the bus to downtown DC to see President Dwight David Eisenhower's Inauguration--he must have been only nine. Times have changed. I am not sure any parent would turn loose a nine-year old and his teenage brother to go to DC by themselves.

Then the watershed for Mr Carroll:
As a freshman at Georgetown in 1961, I wore my ROTC uniform to John F. Kennedy's inauguration. I recall that the regulation topcoat was too thin for the cold that day. As a Young Democrat, I had stuffed envelopes for Kennedy, our Georgetown neighbor, and was, like so many, wholly identified with him. Still, I was unprepared to hear his speech that day as addressed solely to me, with its peroration - ". . .here on earth, God's work must truly be our own" - a summons to what would prove to be a lifelong vocation of political and religious commitment together. Kennedy's inauguration marked a before-and-after moment of my life - a threshold I rejoiced to cross.
This Inauguration was important for many. As I have previously noted, I missed it, spending the day back in Colorado, after the weather prevented our aircraft from getting in to the DC area. It was an important Inauguration for Dick Howe, who blogged about it here.

I am surprised that the Richard M Nixon Inauguration that Mr Carroll chooses to remember is 1973. I would have thought 1969, after he had defeated the Happy Warrior, Senator Hubert H Humphrey. I voted for the Happy Warrior (my Mother thought he was wonderful). I already knew that "Tricky Dick" was "Tricky Dick." But, I did vote for Mr Nixon in 1972, but that was because I thought Senator George McGovern would lead us to disaster. I knew I was voting for a crook. I just thought his fellow crooks would not go after him with Impeachment.

Mr Carroll's comment on the 1973 Inauguration are ambiguous:
The memory shames me now. Even then, I understood that, just as my mystical bond with America had been sealed on prior inauguration days, so on that one the bond broke. After that, I made a point never to be in Washington on Jan. 20 again.
Was he ashamed of his actions and attitude on that day, protesting the President? Was he just ashamed for his nation, because of reelecting President Nixon? It isn't clear to me.

Mr Carroll concludes:
Obligations will keep me away from the capital tomorrow, but, once more like so many, my mind and heart will be with Barack Obama all day. That his election has upended so many world assumptions about the United States seems right to me because it has transformed my own imagination about the possible future. I believe in his promise of change because I have already experienced its effect - to the depths of my soul.

Not that Obama makes me an optimist - one who looks at the evidence and concludes about the future that things are getting better. Indeed, the evidence - from the economy to Gaza - suggests the opposite. But Obama has defined himself by hope, not optimism, and that is different. Hope sees the evidence, and something more. The catastrophes that define the public agenda, and the new president's challenges, can themselves be taken as opportunities. Obama's gifts are impressive, but his greatest asset as he stands before the American people tomorrow is what we are offering to him - a readiness to believe again in the greatness of our nation.
It sort of reminds me of the line: "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country." Except Mr Carroll is not really proud of his country. He is not even optimist. But, he is hopeful.

But, does he have faith--"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." I have faith--the alternative is not very palatable.

Regards  --  Cliff

Congratulations President Obama

The Title says it all--except for Congratulations to the People of these United States for another peaceful transition of power.

Regards  --  Cliff

Showing Courtesy

Driving over to Gervais, to get my car serviced this AM, I stopped short of the light at Rogers and Lawrence (and just past Merrill Street and Jolene Dubner Park) and let a chap with a pickup truck back out of his driveway. He then headed down Rogers Street, past me. Did he wave or give some other sign of recognition and thanks? Not at all. Maybe he thought I was just his patsy. Maybe he was fully occupied driving his mini-monster pickup. Maybe he was just a rude and arrogant person. Pick one.

But, returning home and going to check mail at the Post Office, I stopped on Arcand Dr to let a car into traffic. The lady driving waved to me. My guess is she grew up during the Great Depression. It did make up for that clod of a pickup truck driver.

But, how we act in public is important to our society. I was struck by this item in Amanda Ripley's blog (hat tip, as usual, to the Instapundit). Titled "How to behave in a Plane Crash," it suggests that in an emergency, people tend to bond and show courtesy. There is a lot of good news in that theory. Ms Ripley says:
The truth is, in almost every disaster I have studied, people treat each other with kindness and respect. Violence and panic are extremely rare. An instant camraderie springs up between strangers--on a sinking ship or a bombed-out subway car. That is the rule, not the exception.
To what does she attribute this? From her words at the end of the post, it seems to be innate instincts that have worked well over the millennia.
Why don’t we turn into raving maniacs? Because it is in our interest to be nice to each other. Under threat, we need each other more than ever.
So, who is Amanda Ripley to pontificate? She is the author of The Unthinkable:  Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why. She is a graduate of Cornell, with a BA, and a reporter, including for Time Magazine.

Regards  --  Cliff


One of the questions I have been entertaining, but have been afraid to ask, because it sounds so tacky, is who going to be the designated person to stay away from the Inauguration, so that if worst came to worst and the whole platform of people outside the Capitol at noon were to be blown up, we would have continuity of Government. The list to chose from is long. At the link is the current list--as of this morning--and the list based upon nominations to President Elect Obama's Cabinet.

But, what about 12:00:15? Listening to Fox News last night I found out that Secretary of Defense Gates has been agreed by both the outgoing and incoming Administrations as the designated person to be somewhere else. Perfect solution. A member of the Cabinet in both Administrations and no questions about if he was or was not confirmed. He has been and continues to be confirmed.

I am hoping and praying that it all goes smoothly and according to plans, but I am also ready to accept President Robert Michael Gates, if worst comes to worst.

In the mean time, all hail President Barak Obama, come noon.

Regards  -- : Cliff

Monday, January 19, 2009

More on the "Exclusionary Rule"

Back on Thursday I posted on "When Cops Forget." This question of the exclusionary rule have been running around the Internet for a few days (Herring vs United States). Here is a solution recommended by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. Here is the proposal of Randy Barnett.
I proposed replacing the exclusionary rule with an administrative "court of claims" type system of monetary compensation to victims of police misconduct, whether the claimants are innocent or guilty of committing crimes. Most importantly, it would be police departments, and indirectly taxpayers, and not individual police officers who would be liable for making compensation. If the public wants the whatever increased security results from inadequately constrained police searches and seizures, it can pay for this by compensating the victims of this behavior. If it does not like paying compensation, it can use political mechanisms to impose greater constraints on police conduct. Ultimately, supervisors have a much greater influence on how officers behave than do judges disposing of some future prosecution.
I think the last sentence captures something important. The supervisors are the ones who will influence individual police officers the most.

The other important thing is that money talks. If we are going to allow the police to abuse the Constitution from time to time we need to compensate those who are being abused in terms of protections we are supposed to be offered by our Constitution. That means putting a little more money into Lowell's budget to cover situations where there are violations of the Constitution, even just technical ones, even when the police find indications of crime as a result of the illegal search.

How do you vote?

Regards -- Cliff

Kenneth Anderson Proposes Asylum

There are a lot of law professors out there with time on their hands, blogging away. Kenneth Anderson is one of them. Here he proposes that the US offer asylum to Jews in the UK and Europe. And, he names names--
“I wonder if the time has come for the United States to offer political asylum to the Jews of Canada, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe?”
I believe we should make that offer. If one reads blogs from Europe one gets the impression that things are not all that safe across the Atlantic if you can be identified as Jewish.

For sure we should not repeat the mistakes of the the late 1930s. That is embarrassing to remember, even now. In the years just before I was born we here in the US excluded Jews who were fleeing Germany and anti-Semitism. That anti-Semitism included barring Jews from certain employment and confiscation of property. It included "Kristalnacht." And then it was too late for six million Jews.

Sure, 90% of them will vote Democrat once they become citizens, but some things are above politics.

Regards -- Cliff

Yes We Can

A hat tip to the Instpundit for this link (there may be an advertisement to go through to get to the column).

Tunku Varadarajan writes about America and how we are viewed from outside:
The world, reliably, looks at America, for there is always something eye-catching in progress. The world, equally reliably, looks to America, for this country takes social and political steps that others are too timorous to take. And the world looks up to America, for there is more that is good and just here than in any other society.
Tunku Varadarajan doesn't just know us as an outsider, he is also an insider, a professor at the Stern Business School at NYU and research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and is opinions editor at, where he writes a weekly column. What could be more American than Forbes?

In his column he ties together President Elect Barak Obama and USAirways Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III. Both had a "Yes we can" view of their particular problem. Then the writer talks about American exceptionalism.
The creed of American exceptionalism is distinctive because it is tied closely to the creed of American individualism. There are other societies or people that are adamant believers in their own exceptionalism: The Chinese have their conceit of the Middle Kingdom; the Jews hold that they are Chosen; Hindu Brahmins believe that they alone are born from the head of God; and the Britons have believed that they rule the waves, and that they never, never, never shall be slaves (and what is that if not exceptionalism?). But only the American brand of exceptionalism is not tribal; it allows Outsiders to become Insiders.

American exceptionalism is, paradoxically, all-inclusive, for it encourages salvation through assimilation. I speak, here, of a civic salvation, of a sense of joining a citizenry whose rules are the product of a bold and bracing experiment in perfectibility. This experiment, while yielding a most stirring result in the election of Obama, is as yet far from complete. And still the world watches it--watches it, I should say, with no small amount of awe.

And as it watches, it wills America on. "Yes you can," it says. "Yes you can."
And it is that hope--"Yes we can"--that allows us all to celebrate the Inauguration with hope in a time of economic crisis, even those of us who voted for someone else.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS  In thinking about Captain Sully and his water landing, it is helpful to remember that he quickly rejected the two superfically attractive options, returning to LaGuardia and going on to Teterboro. He deliberately picked the cold water, knowing that it would cost his company a quarter-billion dollar aircraft, but realizing that it was the best hope for his passengers and for the people on the ground along his flight path. He made what was, in those first few seconds, probably a hard choice and it turned out to be the best choice.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Climate Change

I am a bit of an agnostic on global warmingclimate change. However, Dr James Hansen, the Director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), is a convinced believer. The GISS is a joint venture with Columbia University.

Here is an article from The Manchester Guardian on Dr Hansen's view that President Elect Obama has only four years to reverse current trends or climate change will go divergent and not be recoverable. It will just spin out of control.

The GISS recently published, on line, a paper that says 2008 was one of the ten warmest years for surface temperatures since instruments began being used, back in 1880.
Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [see ref. 1] of surface air temperature measurements. In our analysis, 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 (left panel of Fig. 1). The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two-standard-deviation (95% confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [ref. 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.
I have to admit that I didn't quite follow that. If 2008 was the coolest since 2000, then 2001 through 2007 (seven of the 12 years) were warmer, so how can 2008 be the 7th to 10th warmest?

One of the things Dr Hansen would like to see the new Administration undertake is the elimination of coal fired power plants, perhaps to be replaced by fourth generation nuclear power plants. Those "Generation IV" nuclear power plants are described here and here.

In the mean time, Columnist Jeff Jacoby, the designated right-wing token on The Boston Globe's dwindling staff today had a list of eight questions for the US Senate to ask Dr John Holdren (who looks a little like my youngest brother). Dr Holdren (of Harvard) is President Elect Obama's nominee to be his Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (White House Science Adviser). Dr Holdren has been on the doom and gloom express about the world situation for some time, going back to his association with "population alarmist Paul Ehrlich." While Jeff Jacoby is a bit over the top with his eight questions, I would like to see Dr Holdren provide extended comments on a number of them. I would not be looking so much for scientific insight as for personal insight. That is to say, how does he evaluate his pass predictions and the actual outcomes and what did he learn from those events? (Remember President George Bush and his certitude? We need some Walking Humbly.)

Of the eight questions, the most interesting to me is number eight:
You are withering in your contempt for researchers who are unconvinced that human activity is responsible for global warming, or that global warming is an onrushing disaster. You have written that such ideas are "dangerous," that those who hold them "infest" the public discourse, and that paying any attention to their views is "a menace." You contributed to a published assault on Bjorn Lomborg's notable 2001 book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" - an attack the Economist described as "strong on contempt and sneering, but weak on substance." In light of President-elect Obama's insistence that "promoting science" means "protecting free and open inquiry," will you work to soften your hostility toward scholars who disagree with you?
Back to Dr Hansen, here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry linked to above (first link):
In it, he argues that human-caused forces on the climate are now greater than natural ones.
Am I the only person who believes that "human-caused forces" are natural ones? That is to say, am I the only one who believes in evolution and not some creationist view that mankind is separate from nature? This is not to say mankind shouldn't take action as appropriate, but that we should not have this bifurcated view of nature--good nature and bad mankind. It may take the use of a few more words in writing or talking to avoid this Arian like heresy, but it would be good in avoiding other misunderstandings.

I am hoping that there will be enough reporting in the MSM to allow us to track Dr Holdren's confirmation hearing(s) and to see what turns up. Maybe The Globe will spring for a round trip train ticket so Jeff Jacoby can go down and sit in on the hearing.

Regards  --  Cliff

PS For those who haven't followed this blog "from the beginning," I am all for reducing our dependence on oil as a source of energy. My concern is strategic. We should not be so dependent on foreign sources of energy.

The Oath of Office

Out of today's Washington Post comes this article on the 30 seconds it takes to administer the Oath of Office to the new President. I don't know the author, Dan Zak, from Adam's odd ox, but I think he did a great job (that may be Adam's off ox, not odd, but that is the way I learned it).

The article talks about both the history of the Oath and about the meaning of the Oath. Did you know that Lady Bird Johnson was the first First Lady to hold the Bible at the Oath Administration. That was within my lifetime, and after I missed a chance to march in an Inaugural Parade due to bad weather.

The whole Air Force Academy Cadet Wing was being flown to Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, to march in the Kennedy Inaugural Parade. The C-130 in front of ours did not break out on final and diverted to Fort Campbell, KY. We followed suit, as did the others behind us. I am guessing about half of the Cadet Wing didn't make it in. Today, I was talking to someone at Church about it and he said that he had been there to see the Parade and that it had been so cold along the route that he and his buddies repaired to a grill and watched it on TV. That confirms the way it was reported back to those of us who didn't march by those who did.

The journalist talks about a lot of things in his article, including how "So help me God" is not part of the Oath as laid out in the Constitution, but has become part of that oath. And he talks to how Chief Justice John Roberts has been sued about that.
Earlier this month, process server Dan Portnoy walked up to John Roberts's home in Maryland and, through the front window, locked eyes with the chief justice. Roberts came to the door and graciously accepted a lawsuit filed against him.

Credit Michael Newdow, California physician and lawyer, for slinging a fiery complaint to the private doorstep of the supreme judiciary. Newdow wants "so help me God" (and prayer) removed from the inauguration. He and others argue that the chief justice alters the Constitution, acknowledges the existence of God and places the government's "imprimatur" on specific religious beliefs.
This is not new for Dr Newdow, who has been to court over such issues before. I think this is one of the strengths of our system. If you don't like it you can petition the Congress or take it to court.

Here is the end of the article:
Half a minute to confuse and captivate the curious citizen. Slow it down, and what do we see? Centuries into seconds on the inaugural stage.

A nation founded on the concept of separation between church and state will call upon God at its most crucial public ceremony, as has been done for centuries.

A chief justice will add four words to the Constitution, and the majority will be fine with that, even though a steady stream of lawsuits are being filed to question tradition.

A black man will swear on the Bible of the president who's credited with unshackling slaves, swearing to preserve a document that he alters by the end of the oath, and this will be either a touchy exercise of his religious freedom or a theatrical nod to wise forefathers.

His wife will hold that Bible as a sign of her evolving-yet-indefinite role, smack at center stage but chronically unscripted.

These actions spring from heritage, not law, but they will be choreographed with a precision that makes them seem carved in stone. Face the stage and face the nation. It's roiling and shifting, even in that tiny, historic moment when everyone stands still.
And here is a web site designed for children that talks about the Oath--Ben's Guide to US Constitution.

I commend the article to you and God Bless President Barak Obama and may he preserve the Constitution of the United States.

Regards  --  Cliff

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Outback Question of the Week

The Inauguration is on the 20th of January.

What event in the 20th Century, which resulted in terrible consequences for millions of people happened on the 20th of January?

Hint, it wasn't something that happened in the United States of America.

Regards  --  Cliff

Closing the Loop

I realize that I am a blogger and not a journalist. Even so, I do like to check my facts and to give other points of view a shot.

So, I have started reaching out to others. This is a quick recap of my results since starting this blog.

Matt Murphy of The Lowell Sun is my big hero. He got right back to me and was quotable.

The Lowell office of Rep Nicki Tsongas? Not so much. They are a week overdue.

The Boston Globe? Zero for two. But, in truth, that is two folks recently. In the past I have found folks like Alex Beam and Derrick Jackson and Joan Vennochi quite good. And also Ellen Goodman. I think that Monday columnist James Carroll is either a Luddite, working too hard at trying to live the simplified life, or hiding. He has no EMail address at the end of his column. And, he doesn't respond to letters.

On balance, I have to say that others, in the past, at The Sun have been very good at getting back to me. This is a competition that The Sun wins.

Mass Government? Excellent on initial response, but still a couple of days out with a follow-up.

Regards -- Cliff

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ralph Gants for SJC

Superior Court Judge Ralph Gants appeared before the Governor's Council on Wednesday, answering questions before the Council members vote on his nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court.

The article in The Boston Globe covering this is 110 words and offers no specifics on the questioning. The article is here.

The article in The Lowell Sun did a much better job, at 416 words. The reporter is Matt Murphy and the article is here. This article lists some of the issues that came up during Judge Gants' appearance.

The Worcester Telegraph had an article of 646 words. By Lee Hammel, the article focuses on the case of then police sergeant Timothy J O'Conner, who Judge Gants labeled a liar in court.

One would have thought that the Massachusetts paper of record would have been a little more serious about this appointment to our Supreme Judicial Court and could have come up with more than 110 words. Maybe they were in the tank for Judge Gants.

The Lowell Sun article says:
On his judicial philosophy, Gants said he has great respect for legislative intent when reviewing laws and views the state Constitution as a "living, breathing document" that must be adapted over time to changes in society.
OK, if the Commonwealth's Constitution is a "living, breathing document," what criteria do we use to allow it to adapt to changes in society over time? It seems to me it would be good to know the answer to that from someone being nominated to the SJC.

I sent Mr Murphy an EMail, asking if any such criteria had come up. He responded "Not exactly. It came at the end of his opening statement. Outside the constitution, he did say he would respect "legislative intent" when interpreting law."

One previous decision of Judge Gants that came up was his decision regarding a person with four drunk driving convictions that Judge Gants allowed to use his car to go to medical appointments--the guy got to keep his license.

One question with that decision, and others like it by government agencies is who pays if things go wrong? Let us ask ourselves about what happens if this convicted drunk driver, on his way to the doctor, is a little high (read drunk) and hits a pregnant woman, pushing a pram and holding the hand of her 5 year old daughter, in a recently painted crosswalk. Tragically, all of them die. Can the widower sue Judge Gants for letting this guy out and about with his driver's license? Can he sue the state for this bad call? I doubt it in both cases.

Maybe Judge Gants will do a great job on the SJC, but it seems to me a nomination to the SJC is worth more attention than it got from The Globe.

Regards -- Cliff

Work, Retirement and Longevity

I got an article in the EMail from my youngest Brother, which he had gotten from Pacific Stars and Stripes, which I figured I would not be able to link to. However, voila--here it is.

I figured this might explain more fully why The New Englander is getting out of the Navy and moving to the Reserve Component (RC) of the Army. Here is the meat of the story:
In any given year, looking at populations of non-disabled military retirees age 60 and older, the death rate for active duty enlisted retirees is 20 to 25 percent higher than for reserve enlisted retirees. Active duty officer retirees who are 60 and older die in numbers roughly 10 percent higher than retired reserve peers.
The good news is here:
All retired officers, and retired reserve enlisted members, still live a few years longer, on average, than the general population. But for retired active duty enlisted, it’s about even with other Americans.
When I retired from the Air Force, some 15 years ago, the story was that those who stay for 30 years (normal maximum retirement), the life expectancy is much shorter than for those who get out before 30. Thus, I didn't stay for the full 30, but got out a few months early.

It may be that people work hard right up to the point of retirement, retire, do nothing and then quickly move on to the post-retirement phase of the existence.

In the ensuing EMail exchange my Brother reminded me about a Boeing study: "I think that was what drove the results in the Boeing study that showed employees who retired at 65 only drew a pension check for 18 months."

So, here is to a long life for The New Englander.

Regards -- Cliff

Planning for Future Military Employment

If I was going to recommend a non-pilot to run the US Air Force, Major General Charlie Dunlap would be the one. Major General Charles J. Dunlap Jr. is the Deputy Air Force Judge Advocate General (in other words, a lawyer). He is the author of the War College Paper, "The Coup of 2012," which I discussed briefly, here, back on 1 January.

I commend to you his article in the current edition of Armed Forces Journal, "Forget the lessons of Iraq".
Among defense intelligentsia, there are few mantras more chic than that which claims the U.S. military “forgot the lessons of Vietnam.” Had it not done so, received wisdom insists, America’s armed forces would not have struggled in Iraq for so long. Powerful adherents to this theory have spawned a follow-on analog, that we must not “forget the lessons of Iraq.”

Unfortunately, some of the key lessons these enthusiasts believe should be learned are the wrong ones, and these mistaken ideas are causing America’s military to be altered in ways that may prove troubling as the U.S. faces an increasingly complex and dangerous range of security threats.

Indeed, the devotees of the forgot-the-lessons-of-Vietnam philosophy have become so ascendant that they might be said to form the New Establishment of defense strategists. The New Establishment is especially strong in the Army. As a result, much of the service is being reconceptualized into a constabulary force in which nation-building and stability operations all but trump force-on-force war fighting.
General Dunlap's point in the article is that we should not take the war in Iraq, and our apparent success, as the paradigm for future wars. Already Afghanistan is proving to be different. And, the Russian attack on Georgia was different from either Iraq or Afghanistan. And, Israel's war in Gaza is different from those three and from its war in Lebanon two years ago.

The last paragraph contains an important warning.
Recalling the timeless lesson President Eisenhower’s words evoke could illuminate our thinking: “Every war is going to astonish you in the way it has occurred and in the way it is carried out.” Relying on the experience in just one kind of conflict to redefine America’s military carries the dangerous potential to have the nation learn the harsh lessons of defeat on tomorrow’s battlefields where the enemy chooses not to fight as Iraqi insurgents did.
The fact is, the enemy does get a vote and a smart enemy will be looking for new and better ways to fight the United States. We need to understand that and prepare for that. I used to have a sign in my office at Ramstein AB, FRG, that said something along the lines of "The side that wins the next war will not be the one best prepared for Day One, Wave One, but the one that learns the fastest from Day One, Wave One." We need the depth of capability that comes from good education, good training and good materiel and from a broad vision of what the next war might be like.

And, of course, the views expressed in this article are his and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force, the Defense Department or the U.S. government.

Regards -- Cliff

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Tax Code

James Taranto, writing at the Wall Street Journal, (Too Taxing:  The lesson of Geithner's IRS troubles) talked about the nominee for Treasury Secretary, Mr Timothy Geithner, and his tax returns. As we know, he owed some $34,000 more to the IRS after the Obama Transition vetters got done with him.

Did Geithner have an incompetent accountant? Maybe. A Senate Finance Committee statement reports that he prepared his own returns for 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005.

We're tempted to say America needs a Treasury secretary who is smart enough to figure out his own taxes. But such a cheap shot would be beneath us. Instead, we are going to make a serious point:

America needs a tax code simple enough for the Treasury secretary to figure out.
No kidding.

I do my own taxes and just hope and pray that my tax software is right. I am not looking to cut any corners, but I also don't want the software to make any mistakes either.

And, not only is it a problem at Treasury (or soon will be), it is also a problem on Capital Hill. Congressman Charlie Rangel can't seem to keep his taxes in order either. The Instapundit talked about that problem yesterday when we was talking about tax simplification.

I have to agree with those who believe the tax codes are too complex. Some wag has estimated the size of the tax rules:

  • There are approximately 700 separate sections of the Tax Code that apply to individuals.
    There are over 1,500 separate provisions that apply to businesses.
  • As of May 2000, before passage of the last two tax bills, the Tax Code contained 1,395,028 words –nearly 319 times the number of words in the Constitution.
  • IRS Regulations contain over 8,551,444 words –over 11 times the number of words in the AV (King James) Bible.
  • The IRS produces 649 separate forms, schedules, and instructions with approximately 16,100 lines. Publications providing guidance to taxpayers alone total about 13,400 pages.
Actually, these statistics were prepared by a Republican member of the US House of Representatives, at taxpayer expense.

If the average person can't understand the tax laws, how can they comply? We can joke about making work for accountants and lawyers, but that is not a reason for such a complicated tax system.

The reason, of course, is the curse of doing good. The people in Congress who write the tax laws are just trying to help out this or that special interest, who has a special reason why the basic tax code is unfair to them. Sometimes, that special interest is very large, like those who are buying homes with mortgages. Sometimes the special interest is just one person.

But, one hopes that the new Treasury Secretary--there is little doubt he will be confirmed--takes seriously the need to simplify the tax codes of this great nation.

Regards -- Cliff

"When Cops Forget"

Law Professor Glenn Reynolds, who is listed on my favorite blogs as Instanpundit has an article in the New York Post, with the title "When Cops Forget."  This is about a US Supreme Court decision (Herring vs United States) released yesterday, the 14th of January.

The quick review of the case from the article:
Admittedly, the facts in this case aren't that appealing. Bennie Dean Herring, a man with prior felony convictions, went to retrieve an impounded truck. Looking for a reason to arrest him, a police officer asked if there were any warrants outstanding. The computer showed a warrant from a neighboring county.

Herring was arrested and found to be in possession of a pistol (illegal, as he had a prior felony) and methamphetamine. Moments later, the clerk called to say that the warrant had been withdrawn, but by then the search and the arrest had been made.

According to Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, "When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply."
Why did I think Chief Justice Roberts was a Conservative?

The "slip opinion"* is here, for those who care to read it.

In the short term this can be viewed as a good thing. Another person violating the law, and his parole, is caught.

In the long term this might not be such a good thing. If the police accident rate remains low, then things are are not so bad. But, if such "accidents" become institutionalized, then this Supreme Court ruling is a path around our Constitutional protections against the Government--and the Bill of Rights is about protecting us from the Government.

Governments can be like cute little puppies, which grow up to be ravenous, vicious animals. I am not saying that is the only path--and for over 200 years that has not been the path for our Federal Government, but that is in large part due to the vigilance of our fellow citizens, people like Professor Reynolds.

Be vigilant out there.

Regards -- Cliff

* Regarding "slip opinions," quoting from Wikipedia:
The Court's opinions are published in three stages. First, a slip opinion is made available on the Court's web site and through other outlets. Next, a number of opinions are bound together in paperback form, called a preliminary print of United States Reports, the official series of books in which the final version of the Court's opinions appears. About a year after the preliminary prints are issued, a final bound volume of U.S. Reports is issued. The individual volumes of U.S. Reports are numbered so that may cite this set of reporters -- or a competing version published by another commercial legal publisher -- to allow those who read their pleadings and other briefs to find the cases quickly and easily.

At present there are 545 volumes of U.S. Reports. Lawyers use an abbreviated format to cite cases, in the form xxx U.S. xxx (yyyy). The number before the "U.S." refers to the volume number, and the number after the U.S. refers to the page within that volume. The number in parentheses is the year in which the case was decided. For instance, if a lawyer wanted to cite Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, and which appears on page 113 of volume 410 of U.S. Reports, he would write 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
The numbering system was obviously adapted by the Finance Department of the company I work for, since documents and files on our finance software system are all numbers that relate to nothing, but the name of the project used by those working on the project is nowhere to be found.  Also, to paraphrase Sandra Bullock, there is a typo in there somewhere in the first paragraph.

Short History of the Internet

A friend of mine out on the Coast sent along a URL to a site with a video on the history of the Internet. It is in animation format, but is interesting and informative. It also shows that the Internet wasn't invented by one person (sorry Vice President Al Gore), but came about due to international (competition and) cooperation.

Regards -- Cliff

Back to Willy Pete

Earlier, I blogged on the Israeli use of White Phosphorous (Willy Pete in the vernacular) in its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. And that post linked to an earlier one.

This AM someone passed along a link to an article in the on-line edition of Wired Magazine. It is about folks at the United Nations supposedly building a case that Israel, by the use of White Phosphorous artillery rounds, is guilty of war crimes. The Article is here. The origin of this item is an article in The Manchester Guardian, on Tuesday, the 13th.

Per The Guardian
The UN's senior human rights body approved a resolution yesterday condemning the Israeli offensive for "massive violations of human rights". A senior UN source said the body's humanitarian agencies were compiling evidence of war crimes and passing it on to the "highest levels" to be used as seen fit.
I went to the UN website and read their announcement of the 12 January resolution. With a little persistence one finds the actual resolution. The result of the vote was 33 in favour, 1 against, 13 abstentions. Canada was the one who voted against the resolution. The upshot is that they are sending a team to investigate human rights violations in the territory.

The Wired article notes there are two areas being examined.
  1. First is the 1980 Geneva Protocol on Incendiary Weapons, which says, interalia, "It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects the object of attack by incendiary weapons."
  2. Second is alleged violations of the 1949 Geneva Protocol, which requires combatants to "take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects"
The first appears to be a non-starter, in that smoke is not included in the protocol.

My recollection of the second item is that the military force is expected to accept the risk involved in minimizing the danger to civilians. That is to say, if there are two ways to do the job and the first is riskier, but it minimizes civilian casualties, then the first is the one to pick.

That said, the use of smoke, which is what White Phosphorous is mostly used for, may in fact be about minimizing civilian casualties by providing cover to Israeli troops so they can maneuver against Hamas fighters without having to lay down a lot of covering fire.

On the other hand, regarding this second item, one wonders about Hamas' use of rockets to make life miserable in Israel, in order to achieve its goals.

All that said, this is a terrible mess and I, for one, hope that someone finds a solution, or at least a process that leads to a solution.

Regards -- Cliff