Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Buena Park pastor asks followers to pray for the death of his critics
Wiley S. Drake, a Buena Park pastor and a former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, called on his followers to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The request was in response to the liberal group's urging the IRS on Tuesday to investigate Drake's church's nonprofit status because Drake endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president on church letterhead and during a church-affiliated Internet radio show.

Drake said Wednesday he was "simply doing what God told me to do" by targeting Americans United officials Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming, whom he calls the "enemies of God."...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Why the U.S. Ranks Low on WHO's Health-Care Study
The New York Times recently declared "the disturbing truth ... that ... the United States is a laggard not a leader in providing good medical care."

As usual, the Times editors get it wrong.

Dr. Jaime Davis, surgeon and member of the foreign affairs department of Cuba's health ministry, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Havana July 16, 2007. Davis said that Michael Moore's controversial documentary "SiCKO" has given Cuba's free health system the best publicity since its 1959 revolution. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa (CUBA)

They find evidence in a 2000 World Health Organization (WHO) rating of 191 nations and a Commonwealth Fund study of wealthy nations published last May.

In the WHO rankings, the United States finished 37th, ...

... The WHO judged a country's quality of health on life expectancy. But that's a lousy measure of a health-care system. Many things that cause premature death have nothing do with medical care. We have far more fatal transportation accidents than other countries. That's not a health-care problem.

Similarly, our homicide rate is 10 times higher than in the U.K., eight times higher than in France, and five times greater than in Canada.

When you adjust for these "fatal injury" rates, U.S. life expectancy is actually higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation.

Diet and lack of exercise also bring down average life expectancy.

Another reason the U.S. didn't score high in the WHO rankings is that we are less socialistic than other nations. What has that got to do with the quality of health care? For the authors of the study, it's crucial. The WHO judged countries not on the absolute quality of health care, but on how "fairly" health care of any quality is "distributed." The problem here is obvious. By that criterion, a country with high-quality care overall but "unequal distribution" would rank below a country with lower quality care but equal distribution.

It's when this so-called "fairness," a highly subjective standard, is factored in that the U.S. scores go south. ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

...this article from Jet (February 9, 1956, 6) on the free market road not taken:

"Faced with wholesale arrests of Negroes on minor traffic charges as a result of Mayor W.A. Gayle's 'get tough policy,' five Negroes filed an application with the Montgomery City Commission asking for a franchise to operate jitneys to serve Negro areas. Officials of the newly-organized Montgomery Transit Lines said they will use 1956 station wagons. Mayor Gayle's reaction to the proposal was prompt: 'If Negroes want to ride a public vehicle, they can ride city busses.'"

Not so fast, Christian soldiers
Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that's the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the "Military Crusade."

Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word "crusade" and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.

In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he'd assumed the organization was a "quasi-federal entity.")...

...That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches -- in uniform -- casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. "We're in is a spiritual battle," he told one congregation in Oregon. "Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on "60 Minutes." And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ABC News' Rick Klein Reports: When an Iowa resident asked former senator John Edwards Thursday whether the United States should follow the Cuban healthcare model, the 2004 vice presidential contender deflected the question by saying he didn't know enough to answer the question.

"I'm going to be honest with you -- I don't know a lot about Cuba's healthcare system," Edwards, D-N.C., said at an event in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "Is it a government-run system?"...

UK cancer survival rate lowest in Europe
Cancer survival rates in Britain are among the lowest in Europe, according to the most comprehensive analysis of the issue yet produced....

...His co-researcher, Prof Ian Kunkler from the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, said waiting lists for radiotherapy were partly to blame....

Homeland Security Enlists Clergy to Quell Public Unrest if Martial Law Ever Declared
Could martial law ever become a reality in America? Some fear any nuclear, biological or chemical attack on U.S. soil might trigger just that. KSLA News 12 has discovered that the clergy would help the government with potentially their biggest problem: Us....

...If martial law were enacted here at home, like depicted in the movie "The Siege", easing public fears and quelling dissent would be critical. And that's exactly what the 'Clergy Response Team' helped accomplish in the wake of Katrina.
Dr. Durell Tuberville serves as chaplain for the Shreveport Fire Department and the Caddo Sheriff's Office. Tuberville said of the clergy team's mission, "the primary thing that we say to anybody is, 'let's cooperate and get this thing over with and then we'll settle the differences once the crisis is over.'"
Such clergy response teams would walk a tight-rope during martial law between the demands of the government on the one side, versus the wishes of the public on the other. "In a lot of cases, these clergy would already be known in the neighborhoods in which they're helping to diffuse that situation," assured Sandy Davis. He serves as the director of the Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
For the clergy team, one of the biggest tools that they will have in helping calm the public down or to obey the law is the bible itself, specifically Romans 13. Dr. Tuberville elaborated, "because the government's established by the Lord, you know. And, that's what we believe in the Christian faith. That's what's stated in the scripture."
Civil rights advocates believe the amount of public cooperation during such a time of unrest may ultimately depend on how long they expect a suspension of rights might last.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Harvard Journal Study of Worldwide Data Obliterates Notion that Gun Ownership Correlates with Violence
By now, any informed American is familiar with Dr. John R. Lott, Jr.'s famous axiom of "More Guns, Less Crime." In other words, American jurisdictions that allow law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms are far safer and more crime-free than jurisdictions that enact stringent "gun control" laws.

Very simply, the ability of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms has helped reduce violent crime in America.

Now, a Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy study shows that this is not just an American phenomenon. According to the study, worldwide gun ownership rates do not correlate with higher murder or suicide rates. In fact, many nations with high gun ownership have significantly lower murder and suicide rates.

In their piece entitled Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and some Domestic Evidence, Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser eviscerate "the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths." In so doing, the authors provide fascinating historical insight into astronomical murder rates in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and they dispel the myths that widespread gun ownership is somehow unique to the United States or that America suffers from the developed world's highest murder rate.

To the contrary, they establish that Soviet murder rates far exceeded American murder rates, and continue to do so today, despite Russia's extremely stringent gun prohibitions. By 2004, they show, the Russian murder rate was nearly four times higher than the American rate. ...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pope set to declare income tax evasion 'socially unjust'
Pope Benedict XVI is working on a doctrinal pronouncement that will condemn tax evasion as “socially unjust”, according to Vatican sources.

In his second encyclical – the most authoritative statement a pope can issue – the pontiff will denounce the use of “tax havens” and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, since this reduces tax revenues for the benefit of society as a whole. ...

...This week the Italian centre-left Government of Romano Prodi began a concerted crackdown on tax evaders, saying that it would target individuals with second homes and other signs of “conspicuous wealth”. If the black economy is included, unpaid taxes amount to 27 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

Mr Prodi, a devout Catholic, urged church leaders to speak out on tax evasion, telling the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana that a third of Italians heavily evaded taxes, which were needed to plug Italy’s huge budget deficit. “Why, when I go to Mass, is this issue almost never touched upon in homilies?” Mr Prodi asked, adding: “If memory serves, St Paul exhorted the faithful to obey authority.” ...

Crisis cardinal flies to Rome
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, has flown to Rome, as pressure grows on him to resign over his handling of child abuse by priests.

The crisis facing the cardinal deepened last week after the publication of Church records bearing fresh evidence that the archdiocese allowed priests accused of abuse to keep their jobs. ...

Monday, August 13, 2007

As British Leave, Basra Deteriorates
As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq's Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.

Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors," a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.

After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, British forces took control of the region, and the cosmopolitan port city of Basra thrived with trade, arts and universities. As recently as February, Vice President Cheney hailed Basra as a part of Iraq "where things are going pretty well."

But "it's hard now to paint Basra as a success story," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad with long experience in the south....

..."The British have basically been defeated in the south," a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad. They are abandoning their former headquarters at Basra Palace, where a recent official visitor from London described them as "surrounded like cowboys and Indians" by militia fighters. An airport base outside the city, where a regional U.S. Embassy office and Britain's remaining 5,500 troops are barricaded behind building-high sandbags, has been attacked with mortars or rockets nearly 600 times over the past four months....

Siding with Governments over People, Pope Criticizes Tax Havens
It is rather disappointing that so many religious figures think that compassion should be a function of the state and that bigger government is good for the less fortunate. This approach not only undermines personal responsibility, but it also is anti-empirical because of the ever-growing body of evidence showing that high tax rates and excessive spending hinder growth and thus make it harder for poor people to climb the economic ladder.

Notwithstanding this real-world evidence, the UK-based Times reports that the Pope is about to attack tax havens as part of broader call for more redistribution. ...

Greenhouse Simplicities
...The global-warming debate's great un-mentionable is this: we lack the technology to get from here to there. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn't mean it can happen. At best, we might curb emissions growth.

Consider a 2006 study from the International Energy Agency. With present policies, it projected that carbon-dioxide emissions (a main greenhouse gas) would more than double by 2050; developing countries would account for almost 70 percent of the increase. The IEA then simulated an aggressive, global program to cut emissions based on the best available technologies: more solar, wind and biomass; more-efficient cars, appliances and buildings; more nuclear. Under this admitted fantasy, global emissions in 2050 would still slightly exceed 2003 levels.

Even the fantasy would be a stretch. In the United States, it would take massive regulations, higher energy taxes or both. Democracies don't easily adopt painful measures in the present to avert possible future problems. Examples abound. Since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, we've been on notice to limit dependence on insecure foreign oil. We've done little. In 1973, imports were 35 percent of U.S. oil use; in 2006, they were 60 percent. For decades we've known of the huge retirement costs of baby boomers. Little has been done.

One way or another, our assaults against global warming are likely to be symbolic, ineffective or both. But if we succeed in cutting emissions substantially, savings would probably be offset by gains in China and elsewhere. The McKinsey Global Institute projects that from 2003 to 2020, the number of China's vehicles will rise from 26 million to 120 million, average residential floor space will increase 50 percent and energy demand will grow 4.4 percent annually. Even with "best practices" energy efficiency, demand would still grow 2.8 percent a year, McKinsey estimates.

Against these real-world pressures, NEWSWEEK's "denial machine" is a peripheral and highly contrived story. NEWSWEEK implied, for example, that ExxonMobil used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science. Actually, this accusation was long ago discredited, and NEWSWEEK shouldn't have lent it respectability. (The company says it knew nothing of the global-warming grant, which involved issues of climate modeling. And its 2006 contribution to the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, was small: $240,000 out of a $28 million budget.)

The alleged cabal's influence does not seem impressive. ...

Religion beat became a test of faith
WHEN Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God had answered my prayers.

As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show.

I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people's lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier.

But during the eight years I covered religion, something very different happened.

What happened to the Southern Baptists?
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The annual meeting of the SBC was held this year in San Antonio, Texas, on June 12 and 13. President Bush addressed the crowd of thousands of messengers via satellite with a nine-minute speech on the closing day "to multiple lengthy applauses and standing ovations," according to Baptist Press, the official news agency of the SBC.

Although he is not a Southern Baptist, Bush has addressed the SBC annual meeting, either by satellite or videotape, every year since 2002. The only exception was last year, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is also not a Southern Baptist, spoke to the SBC messengers in person in Greensboro, North Carolina, because Bush made a secret trip to Iraq during the time of the SBC annual meeting in 2006.

Like he did in 2004 and 2005, the president mentioned Southern Baptist support for the military in his recent comments to the SBC messengers:

I also appreciate the fact that Southern Baptists are supporting our brave men and women in uniform, and their families. I know you pray for their safety as they defend our people and extend the hope of freedom to the oppressed across the globe. I appreciate the fact you’ve sent care packages, and tend to the spiritual needs as military chaplains or kneel in prayer. I thank you as you support those who volunteer to serve our nation.

If the president were honest, he would have thanked the pastors at the annual meeting for supplying cannon fodder for the state in the form of their young men that they encouraged to join the military....

...What happened to the Southern Baptists? Their overwhelming support for the U.S.-initiated Persian Gulf War shows that they fully accepted the government’s new enemy after the end of the Cold War: Saddam Hussein. Thus began their descent down the slippery slope of militarism, presidential aggrandizement, and statolatry. The transformation was made complete in 2001.

What happened to the Southern Baptists? The events of September 11, 2001, apparently "changed everything." Yet, after the fiasco that is the war in Iraq has been scrupulously exposed many times over, no change in opinion has been forthcoming from the SBC. Instead, the man most responsible for the war is welcomed with applause and ovation. But there is one thing that the events of September 11th didn’t change – the reckless, belligerent, and meddling U.S. foreign policy responsible for the blowback we suffered on that date, and will inevitably experience again since our militaristic, interventionist foreign policy likewise shows no sign of changing.

Elite maths 'discouraged'
SCHOOLS have been accused of discouraging average maths students in an attempt to boost their academic results.

As the number of year 12 students enrolled in advanced and intermediate maths continues to slide, the chairman of the national committee for mathematical sciences, Hyam Rubinstein, said because maths was viewed as a difficult subject in schools, only the best and brightest were encouraged to pursue it at an advanced level.

"If a school wants to maximise their performance, they may feel that 'if we encourage weaker students not to take maths, our results will look better'," he said....

Pupils 'are urged to drop maths'
Pupils are being discouraged from taking A-level maths as schools in England chase higher places in the league tables, scientists have claimed.

The Royal Society of Chemistry said that as maths was a difficult subject, schools feared examination failures which would threaten their standings.

Chief executive Richard Pike also said universities were increasingly having to run remedial classes in maths. ...

The Protection Battered Spouses Don’t Need
TWO decades ago, in an effort to curb domestic violence, states began passing “mandatory arrest” laws. Police officers responding to a call for help would no longer need to determine whether one person was truly violent or out of control; every time someone reported abuse, the police would simply be required to make an arrest.

It seemed like a good tactic — at least to people who work with victims of domestic violence. (Police officers tended to be less enthusiastic, because they prefer to make arrests at their own discretion.) Arrests would immediately stop the violence and might discourage abusers from further acts of abuse.

But 20 years later, it seems the mandatory arrest laws are having an unintended, deadly side effect. The number of murders committed by intimate partners is now significantly higher in states with mandatory arrest laws than it is in other states.

Support for the laws began in 1984, after a federal district court in Connecticut ruled that the police had inadequately protected a woman whose husband had brutally assaulted her. State lawmakers decided they needed more control over how local police departments enforced restraining orders against abusers and intervened in incidents of violence. One way to get that control was to dictate how the police should respond in each case.

A small but influential study of police responses to domestic violence calls, conducted by criminologists in Minnesota in the early 1980s, found that arrests were the most effective strategy for reducing future violence. Now, 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws that mandate or at least strongly recommend that everyone accused of domestic abuse be arrested.

What the laws did not take into account was that eventually the victims of violence would come to realize that if they called the police, their abuser would certainly be arrested. And over the years, it turns out, that realization seems to have led victims to contact the police less....

Bush: The Biggest Taxer in World History
The Treasury Department reported Friday that federal revenues reached $2.12 trillion ($2,120,000,000,0000) for the first ten months of fiscal year 2007. In both current and inflation-adjusted dollars, that puts the federal government on course for the most revenue it’s ever collected in a year. Indeed, it’s the most revenue any government in the history of the world has ever collected. And yet it’s not enough to satisfy the voracious appetites of the spenders in Congress and the administration. Spending was $2.27 trillion for the same ten months.

It seems that the deficit problem in Washington is not a result of insufficient tax revenue but rather the inexorable growth of spending on everything from earmarks to entitlements to war....

How the Democrats Blew It in Only Eight Months
Led by Democrats since the start of this year, Congress now has a "confidence" rating of 14 percent, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1973 and five points lower than Republicans scored last year.

The voters put the Democrats in to end the war, and it's escalating. The Democrats voted the money for the surge and the money for the next $459.6 billion military budget. Their latest achievement was to provide enough votes in support of Bush to legalize warrantless wiretapping for "foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States." Enough Democrats joined Republicans to make this a 227-183 victory for Bush. The Democrats control the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the bill in its tracks if she'd wanted to. But she didn't. The Democrats' game is to go along with the White House agenda while stirring up dust storms to blind the base to their failure to bring the troops home or restore constitutional government....

Friday, August 10, 2007

As US tax rates drop, government's reach grows
...Slightly over half of all Americans – 52.6 percent – now receive significant income from government programs, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That's up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass 55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President's Reagan's move to scale back the size of government.

That two-decade shrink-the-government trend now appears over, if for no other reason than demographics. The aging baby-boomer generation is poised to receive big payments from Social Security and government healthcare programs.

"New Deal programs persist," despite the Reagan revolution and its aftermath, says James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas in Austin. "They persist because they are largely successful and highly popular."

Mr. Shilling's analysis found that about 1 in 5 Americans hold a government job or a job reliant on federal spending. A similar number receive Social Security or a government pension. About 19 million others get food stamps, 2 million get subsidized housing, and 5 million get education grants. For all these categories, Mr. Shilling counted dependents as well as the direct recipients of government income. ...

...Similarly, Shilling predicts that the number of "government beneficiaries," as he defines them, will grow to 60 percent of the US population by 2040 Against this backdrop, many Americans are understandably uneasy about the fiscal path of their politicians....

...For his analysis of government beneficiaries in the US, done last year, Shilling looked at data from 1950 through 2004. His tally was conservative on several fronts – including the care he took to avoid double-counting anyone.

He added up the number of federal, state, and local government workers, plus private sector workers who owe their jobs to government. He then tallied the recipients of transfer payments (like pensions) and a few other substantial programs (like food stamps). And he tacked on the dependents of these direct beneficiaries.

He divided his total by the US population to get a "government beneficiary" ratio for each decade. The ratio has risen, he found, from 28.3 percent in 1950 to a peak of 55.0 percent in 1980. It edged down in 1990 and again in 2000, and now has begun climbing again.

Looking at the big picture, especially entitlements for older Americans, some experts worry about a fiscal undertow.

"I fear that we may be on the path to becoming a decrepit, high-unemployment welfare state," says Daniel Mitchell, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. Economists differ regarding whether, or at what level, a high tax burden acts to dampen economic growth. European nations have shown, for example, that advanced economies can maintain generous social-welfare programs.

But Mr. Mitchell says these nations pay a price of more tepid growth. Sweden, he says, has in recent years dropped off the global Top 10 list for per-capita output. Ireland, by contrast, has kept the government burden low and enjoyed rapid economic growth.

Hurricanes and Hot Air
Though the 2007 hurricane season is off to a slow start, my colleague Phil Klotzbach and I will be updating our seasonal Atlantic Basin Hurricane Activity Forecast on Aug 3. We still anticipate another active season -- an above-average number of major hurricanes with maximum sustained winds in excess of 110 mph....

...A number of my colleagues and I have discussed the physics of Atlantic THC variations in our seasonal hurricane forecasts and in various conference talks for many years. Those who are convinced that greenhouse gas increases provide the only plausible explanation for the recent increases in hurricane activity are either unaware of our work, or don't want to consider any alternative.

One reason may be that the advocates of warming tend to be climate modelers with little observational experience. Many of the modelers are not fully aware of how the real atmosphere and ocean function. They rely more on theory than on observation.

The warming theorists -- most of whom, no doubt, earnestly believe that human activity has triggered nature's wrath -- have the ears of the news media. But there is another plausible explanation, supported by decades of physical observation. The spate of recent destructive hurricanes may have little or nothing to do with greenhouse gases and climate change, and everything to do with the Atlantic Ocean's currents.

1998 no longer the hottest year on record in USA
...Regular readers may remember that I posted about a climate station in Detroit Lakes MN last week, surveyed by volunteer Don Kostuch, and cross posted it to the website that had two air conditioner units right next to it. It looked like an obvious cause and effect because in 1999 on May 5th, it was determined that the a/c units were moved off the roof of the radio station where this station resides and moved them to the ground where the temperature sensor is close by.

However, some folks on the blogosphere just went, well, a little ballistic over that assertion. It was a good thing too, because their very loud and somewhat uncivil complaints led to an examination of this idea: if its not the a/c units, what then did cause the temperature jump at that time?...

...Here is one of his first posts where he begins to understand what is happening. "This imparts an upward discontinuity of a deg C in wintertime and 0.8 deg C annually. I checked the monthly data and determined that the discontinuity occurred on January 2000 - and, to that extent, appears to be a Y2K problem. I presume that this is a programming error."

He further refines his argument showing the distribution of the error, and the problems with the USHCN temperature data. He also sends an email to NASA GISS advising of the problem.

He finally publishes it here, stating that NASA made a correction not only on their own web page, attributing the discovery to McIntyre, but NASA also issued a corrected set of temperature anomaly data which you can see here:

Steve McIntyre posted this data from NASA's newly published data set from Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) These numbers represent deviation from the mean temperature calculated from temperature measurement stations throughout the USA.

According to the new data published by NASA, 1998 is no longer the hottest year ever. 1934 is.

Four of the top 10 years of US CONUS high temperature deviations are now from the 1930s: 1934, 1931, 1938 and 1939, while only 3 of the top 10 are from the last 10 years (1998, 2006, 1999). Several years (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004) fell well down the leaderboard, behind even 1900. (World rankings of temperature are calculated separately.) ...

Bridge Collapse Revives Issue of Road Spending
MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 6 — In the past two years, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota twice vetoed legislation to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for transportation needs.

Now, with at least five people dead in the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge here, Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican, appears to have had a change of heart.

“He’s open to that,” Brian McClung, a spokesman for the governor, said Monday of a higher gas tax. “He believes we need to do everything we can to address this situation and the extraordinary costs.”

Even as the cause of the bridge disaster here remains under investigation, the collapse is changing a lot of minds about spending priorities. It has focused national attention on the crumbling condition of America’s roadways and bridges — and on the financial and political neglect they have received in Washington and many state capitals.

Despite historic highs in transportation spending, the political muscle of lawmakers, rather than dire need, has typically driven where much of the money goes. That has often meant construction of new, politically popular roads and transit projects rather than the mundane work of maintaining the worn-out ones.

Further, transportation and engineering experts said, lawmakers have financed a boom in rail construction that, while politically popular, has resulted in expensive transit systems that are not used by a vast majority of American commuters.

Representative James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sent out a news release last month boasting about Minnesota’s share of a recent transportation and housing appropriations bill.

Of the $12 million secured for the state, $10 million is slated for a new 40-mile commuter rail line to Minneapolis, called the Northstar. The remaining $2 million is divided among a new bike and walking path and a few other projects, including highway work and interchange reconstruction....

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Chilling Effect
...Even the supporters of global warming hype found the title of Newsweek's Aug. 13 attack on skeptics, "The Truth About Denial," offensive. The use of the word "denier" is deliberate, an attempt to paint as either crazy or corrupt what Al Gore has proclaimed as Truth. Reputable scientists have been accused by a major news magazine of being paid to lie.

"Let's be blunt," said Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. "This allusion is an affront to those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. This allusion has no place in the discourse on climate change. I say this as someone fully convinced of a significant human role in the behavior of the climate system."...

...Newsweek portrays James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as untainted by corporate bribery.

Hansen was once profiled on CBS' "60 Minutes" as the "world's leading researcher on global warming." Not mentioned by Newsweek was that Hansen had acted as a consultant to Al Gore's slide-show presentations on global warming, that he had endorsed John Kerry for president, and had received a $250,000 grant from the foundation headed by Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Newsweek reporter and editorial, uh, article co-author Eve Conant was provided, during her interview with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., documentation of the overwhelming funding advantage enjoyed by those who promote fear of climate change. Newsweek chose to ignore it.

In a Sept. 25, 2006, Senate floor speech, Inhofe noted: "The fact remains that political campaign funding by environmental groups to promote climate and environmental alarmism dwarfs spending by the fossil fuel industry by a 3-to-1 ratio."

Paleoclimate scientist Bob Carter testified before Inhofe's Environment and Public Works Committee: "In one of the more expensive ironies of history, the expenditure of more than $50 billion on research into global warming since 1990 has failed to demonstrate any human-caused climate trend, let alone a dangerous one."

Nor did Newsweek put a dollar value on the 75 hours of free airtime that corporate cousin NBC gave Al Gore on its various stations, starting with NBC and including CNBC, Bravo, the Sundance Channel, Universal HD and Telemundo. We bet it is more than Exxon's $19 million or CEI's meager $3.6 million annual budget....

Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption
...Altruism, according to the text books, has two forms. One is known technically as kin selection, and familiarly as nepotism. This spreads an individual's genes collaterally, rather than directly, but is otherwise similar to his helping his own offspring. The second form is reciprocal altruism, or “you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours”. It relies on trust, and a good memory for favours given and received, but is otherwise not much different from simultaneous collaboration (such as a wolf pack hunting) in that the benefit exceeds the cost for all parties involved.

Humans, however, show a third sort of altruism—one that has no obvious pay-off. This is altruism towards strangers, for example, charity. That may enhance reputation. But how does an enhanced reputation weigh in the Darwinian balance?

To investigate this question, the researchers made an interesting link. At first sight, helping charities looks to be at the opposite end of the selfishness spectrum from conspicuous consumption. Yet they have something in common: both involve the profligate deployment of resources.

That is characteristic of the consequences of sexual selection. An individual shows he (or she) has resources to burn—whether those are biochemical reserves, time or, in the human instance, money—by using them to make costly signals. That demonstrates underlying fitness of the sort favoured by evolution. Viewed this way, both conspicuous consumption and what the researchers call “blatant benevolence” are costly signals. And since they are behaviours rather than structures, and thus controlled by the brain, they may be part of the mating mind.

There is, of course, a lot of evidence for the first part of this conjecture. Everybody knows that fast cars attract fast women. The second, though, may come as a surprise. So the team did an experiment to compare them.

They divided a bunch of volunteers into two groups. Those in one were put into what the researchers hoped would be a “romantic mindset” by being shown pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex. They were each asked to write a description of a perfect date with one of these people. The unlucky members of the other group were shown pictures of buildings and told to write about the weather.

The participants were then asked two things. The first was to imagine they had $5,000 in the bank. They could spend part or all of it on various luxury items such as a new car, a dinner party at a restaurant or a holiday in Europe. They were also asked what fraction of a hypothetical 60 hours of leisure time during the course of a month they would devote to volunteer work.

The results were just what the researchers hoped for. In the romantically primed group, the men went wild with the Monopoly money. Conversely, the women volunteered their lives away. Those women continued, however, to be skinflints, and the men remained callously indifferent to those less fortunate than themselves. Meanwhile, in the other group there was little inclination either to profligate spending or to good works. Based on this result, it looks as though the sexes do, indeed, have different strategies for showing off. Moreover, they do not waste their resources by behaving like that all the time. Only when it counts sexually are men profligate and women helpful.

That result was confirmed by the second experiment which, instead of looking at the amount of spending and volunteering, looked at how conspicuous it was. After all, there is little point in producing a costly signal if no one sees it.

As predicted, romantically primed men wanted to buy items that they could wear or drive, rather than things to be kept at home. Their motive, therefore, was not mere acquisitiveness. Similarly, romantically primed women volunteered for activities such as working in a shelter for the homeless, rather than spending an afternoon alone picking up rubbish in a park. For both sexes, however, those in an unromantic mood were indifferent to the public visibility of their choices.

These two studies support the idea, familiar from everyday life, that what women want in a partner is material support while men require self-sacrifice. Conspicuous consumption allows men to demonstrate the former. Blatant benevolence allows women to demonstrate the latter. There is, however, a confounding observation. The most blatant benevolence of all, that of billionaires giving away their fortunes and heroes giving away (or at least risking) their lives, is almost entirely a male phenomenon.

To examine this, the team did another experiment. They found that when requests for benevolence were financial, rather than time-consuming, romantically primed men were happy to chip in extravagantly. Giving money to charity is thus more akin to conspicuous consumption than it is to blatant benevolence. ...

War and peace: Did evangelicals' support for Iraq invasion damage credibility?
...“I think [conservative evangelicals] abdicated or relinquished their prophetic role from the beginning” of President Bush’s administration, said Adam Taylor, senior political director for Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a progressive evangelical group that opposed the war from the start.

But Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy agency, said he thinks he and other conservative evangelicals who supported the war were fulfilling their roles properly.

“I think that most of the evangelicals I think of -- the majority that supported liberating Iraq and the minority who didn’t support liberating Iraq by military force -- both spoke truth as they saw it to power,” he said. “And if they do that, they’re certainly speaking prophetically.”

Land led a group of five prominent evangelical leaders who, in the run-up to the war in the fall of 2002, signed an open letter declaring that Bush’s designs on Iraq satisfied the criteria of Christian “just-war” theory.

They wrote the letter to counter the chorus of Christian leaders -- including mainline Protestants, Catholics and fellow evangelicals -- who already had spoken forcefully against the war.

Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s then-dictator, “has attacked his neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and harbored terrorists from the al-Qaeda terrorist network that attacked our nation so viciously and violently on September 11, 2001,” the letter said.

Its signers included Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, a Baptist. In a Dec. 2002 article for Christianity Today magazine, Colson argued that the classical definition of Christian just-war theory should be “stretched” to accommodate a new age in which terrorism and warfare are intertwined.

He concluded that “out of love of neighbor then, Christians can and should support a preemptive strike” on Iraq to prevent Iraqi-based or -funded attacks on the United States or its allies.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and a former Southern Baptist Convention president, even argued from the pulpit that war may be sometimes divinely justified.

“Throughout Scripture, there is evidence that God favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to accomplish his will. He has also given governments and their citizens very specific responsibilities in regards to this matter,” Stanley said in a sermon broadcast internationally on his television program.

Polls at the time and later on showed that white evangelical Christians were among the war’s strongest supporters. However, along with the rest of the public, evangelical support for involvement in Iraq has slipped considerably in polls taken over the last year.

Nonetheless, Land said he continues to believe the decision to attack was right at the time, even if the war itself has been mishandled.

“I still think that the liberation of Iraq was a noble cause, and it also was in the self-interest of our country and the other countries in the region,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “And it certainly caused the fall of one of the more dastardly personages of the 20th century in Saddam Hussein.”

But, with a sizable number of Americans now saying the war was a mistake for America, Sojourners’ Taylor said the fact that some of the evangelical community’s most prominent leaders seemed to endorse Bush’s agenda wholeheartedly makes the war a mistake for evangelicalism itself.

“In terms of the credibility of the evangelical voice and community, certainly it’s had an impact,” he said.

Evangelicalism has “become something of an appendage of the Republican Party” to many non-evangelical Americans, Taylor said....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Christian court watchers keep tabs on judges
John Becknell enters the courtroom and finds his usual spot in the front row, just behind the prosecutor's table.

Becknell -- a devout Christian known to many as "Brother John" -- pulls out a pen and an inch-thick docket, mostly of drug and alcohol cases. For the next three hours, he takes diligent notes on the judge's actions, the attendance of police officers, repeat offenders making another appearance, and so on.

The purpose? To make sure drug offenders in eastern Kentucky are getting what they deserve.

Frustrated with widespread drug abuse -- especially of easily accessible prescription painkillers -- a handful of mountain churches are moving away from their traditional role as a refuge for the poor and addicted. Now they're more interested in law enforcement.

The Community Church of Manchester is leading the way through "Court Watch," a program in which volunteers attend court hearings to monitor judges overseeing drug-related cases.

"It's kind of a new position and very controversial," said Becknell, who also runs his church's local Christian television station. "A lot of churches shun getting involved in politics or going to court."

The Rev. Doug Abner, pastor at Community Church -- whose slogan for a 2004 anti-drug march was "get saved or get busted" -- said the presence of Court Watch volunteers puts "mild pressure" on judges "to do the right thing." The volunteers collect information for a database and look for trends in drug crimes.

The program concerns some other people of faith, who say it cuts against Christian values.

"The churches have traditionally been the humanitarian influence in society," said the Rev. John Rausch, director of the Catholic Committee on Appalachia.

Churches should focus on drug counseling and ministering to inmates, he said, citing part of the Gospel of Matthew (25:36) concerning the final judgment: "When I was in prison, you came to see me."

"It isn't 'I was up for charges and you made sure they threw the book at me,"' Rausch said....

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Presence of Malice
LAST week, Judge Nancy Gertner of the Federal District Court in Boston awarded more than $100 million to four men whom the F.B.I. framed for the 1965 murder of Edward Deegan, a local gangster. It was compensation for the 30 years the men spent behind bars while agents withheld evidence that would have cleared them and put the real killer — a valuable F.B.I. informant, by the name of Vincent Flemmi — in prison.

Most coverage of the story described it as a bizarre exception in the history of law enforcement. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior by those whose sworn duty it is to uphold the law is all too common. In state courts, where most death sentences are handed down, it occurs regularly.

My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel. (There were four cases in which a determination could not be made one way or another.)

Yet too often this behavior is not singled out and identified for what it is. When a prosecutor puts a witness on the stand whom he knows to be lying, or fails to turn over evidence favorable to the defense, or when a police officer manufactures or destroys evidence to further the likelihood of a conviction, then it is deceptive to term these conscious violations of the law — all of which I found in my research — as merely mistakes or errors.

Mistakes are good-faith errors — like taking the wrong exit off the highway, or dialing the wrong telephone number. There is no malice behind them. However, when officers of the court conspire to convict a defendant of first-degree murder and send him to death row, they are doing much more than making an innocent mistake or error. They are breaking the law.

Perhaps this explains why, even when a manifestly innocent man is about to be executed, a prosecutor can be dead set against reopening an old case. Since so many wrongful convictions result from official malicious behavior, prosecutors, policemen, witnesses or even jurors and judges could themselves face jail time for breaking the law in obtaining an unlawful conviction. ...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Universal health care: Is it worth the long waits?
After battling brain cancer, Lindsay McCreith is ready for his next fight: He’s taking on the Canadian health care system.

His case has potential repercussions on both sides of the border as pressure grows for health reform.

It started when McCreith, a resident of Newmarket, north of Toronto, suffered a seizure last year. He was told in Canada he would have to wait more than four months for an MRI to rule out a malignant tumor.

Rather than wait, McCreith, 66, quickly arranged a trip to Buffalo for a scan. The MRI confirmed his worst fears — a cancerous growth that a Buffalo neurosurgeon removed a few weeks later.

“If I had been patient, I’d probably be disabled or dead today,” McCreith said.

Now, McCreith is suing the Ontario government in a closely watched constitutional challenge that could reshape universal health coverage in the province by striking down the prohibition against patients buying private insurance.

On this side of the border, advocates of universal health insurance champion Canada’s popular public program as a fairer system that the United States should emulate, as seen in Michael Moore film, “Sicko.” Yet critics see the long waits for some services in Canada — mainly for non-emergency surgery — as an argument against an increased role for government in health care. ...

...Canada bans private insurance for essential health needs, but it is not a socialized system. Doctors and hospitals are private...

...McCreith’s case will test that decision in Ontario by claiming that the province’s ban on private health insurance and private billing by physicians infringed on his constitutional right to life, liberty and security.

“In Canada, we have a monopoly health system, and you don’t have the right to seek alternatives. That can be a huge financial and emotional burden for patients,” said Avril Allen, McCreith’s attorney.

A recent statement from the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which is helping to sponsor the lawsuit, said that it was intolerable that residents could buy medical insurance for their pets but not for themselves.

“The question is this: Should Canadians have to stay on waiting lists against their will?” Allen said.

Some people say the cases will undo Canada’s cherished system of providing health insurance to everyone, a turn of events desired by proponents of privatization.

Others say they will force the government — and taxpayers — to invest more money to fill in the gaps in the health system. ...

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Federal Pay Data
...The new data for 2006 show that 1.8 million federal civilian workers earned an average $111,180 in total compensation (wages plus benefits). That is more than double the $55,470 average earned by U.S. workers in the private sector.

Looking just at wages, federal workers earned an average $73,406, which is 60 percent greater than the $45,995 average earned by private sector workers....