Saturday, July 26, 2008

Too young for the No. 1 job?
...Many on the legal left these days advocate purposive, pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution. The idea is you look behind the text to see what function it played for the framers and you then translate the text so it will play that same function for us today. What does this mean for the presidential age qualification?

In 1789, the average life expectancy of a newborn was about 40 years, compared with about 78 today. A lot of this was because of infant mortality, but in 1789, even the average life expectancy of every man who reached age 18 was only about 47. This suggests that at best a 35-year-old age limit in 1789 might have functioned then about the way a 55- or 60-year-old age qualification would function today. On this account Obama may be old enough to drive and buy a glass of white wine, but he has a way to go before he can run for president.

Others on the legal left, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, argue that in choosing between different interpretations of the Constitution, we should select the one that will produce the best consequences. This method too suggests that Obama should be understood to be constitutionally barred from serving as president by reason of his age. We have had three presidents out of 43 who were younger when they took office than Obama would be on Jan. 20, 2009: Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt. All of them committed serious rookie blunders because they were too young....

A dash of lime -- a new twist that may cut CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels
Scientists say they have found a workable way of reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere by adding lime to seawater. And they think it has the potential to dramatically reverse CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, reports Cath O'Driscoll in SCI's Chemistry & Industry magazine published today.

Shell is so impressed with the new approach that it is funding an investigation into its economic feasibility. 'We think it's a promising idea,' says Shell's Gilles Bertherin, a coordinator on the project. 'There are potentially huge environmental benefits from addressing climate change – and adding calcium hydroxide to seawater will also mitigate the effects of ocean acidification, so it should have a positive impact on the marine environment.'

Adding lime to seawater increases alkalinity, boosting seawater's ability to absorb CO2 from air and reducing the tendency to release it back again.

However, the idea, which has been bandied about for years, was thought unworkable because of the expense of obtaining lime from limestone and the amount of CO2 released in the process.

Tim Kruger, a management consultant at London firm Corven is the brains behind the plan to resurrect the lime process. He argues that it could be made workable by locating it in regions that have a combination of low-cost 'stranded' energy considered too remote to be economically viable to exploit – like flared natural gas or solar energy in deserts – and that are rich in limestone, making it feasible for calcination to take place on site.

Kruger says: 'There are many such places – for example, Australia's Nullarbor Plain would be a prime location for this process, as it has 10 000km3 of limestone and soaks up roughly 20MJ/m2 of solar irradiation every day.' ...

The rise and rise of Climate Blasphemy
...You can say what you like about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but say anything reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous about a climate change scientist and you will be punished. You won’t receive a literal lashing, but you will get a metaphorical one. Speak ill of a climate expert and you’re likely to be stuck in the stocks of the public media and branded as a fact-denying, truth-distorting threat to public morals.

Increasingly in the climate change debate, no dissent can be brooked. I mean none. That is why, from the thousands and thousands of hours of TV programming devoted to climate change issues last year – from news reports on the threat of global warming to the lifestyle makeover shows imploring us to Go Green – only one has been singled out for censure. The one that questioned whether climate change is occurring. The Great Global Warming Swindle by maverick filmmaker Martin Durkin.

Today, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) has published a lengthy document censuring Channel 4 for showing Durkin’s film on 8 March 2007. Yet what is striking about Ofcom’s ruling is that it slaps Channel 4’s wrists, not for any inaccuracies in Durkin’s film (of which, it is claimed, there are many), but for its ‘unfair treatment’ of climate change experts. ...

‘The only certain thing is the science is uncertain’
...The subject of the discussion was Lawson’s book, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. In a cheeky introduction, the chairman of the discussion, Austin Williams, told the audience: ‘Nigel Lawson, Lord Lawson of Blaby, speaks from a position of eminent authority on the issue of carbon reduction. He was responsible for the biggest reduction in carbon emissions in this country when he presided over the slashing of the coal mining industry.’ Apart from raising laughter, the introduction was a pointed nod to the fact that the old lines of left and right in society have disappeared today, replaced by new divisions over climate change and the environment more broadly.

As a former finance minister, Lawson does not pretend to be an expert on the details of atmospheric physics. But, as he pointed out, many scientists and noisy commentators on the subject have no special expertise in the particular disciplines required to understand climate, either. More importantly, the politicians charged with making the big policy decisions on the subject must do so on the basis of limited knowledge, too.

‘The one thing that is absolutely clear about the science is that it isn’t certain, far from it’, began Lawson. That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of common ground between sceptics and mainstream views of the science, as Lawson pointed out. ‘Most people would agree there have been huge increases in concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere’; ‘there is no real argument that the major contributor to that has been man, through the burning of carbon’; and ‘there is no doubt there is such a thing as the greenhouse effect or that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas’.

For Lawson, the real uncertainty is around how big the effect of carbon dioxide will be on temperatures. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that most of the warming over the past 100 years has been due to human activity, Lawson argued that the consensus isn’t as complete as is usually suggested. He pointed to a survey conducted by the German climate scientist, Hans von Storch - someone who has supported the mainstream view of the science while being critical of much of the presentation of it in the media. The survey asked 500 climate scientists, under strict promise of anonymity, for their view on the debate. Of those surveyed, 70 per cent supported the view that global warming was mostly caused by humans; 30 per cent did not. While science should never be ‘conducted by a head count’, said Lawson, it is clear that the much-vaunted unanimity is absent. ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I Choose My Choice!
...But aren’t women at home subject to the oppression of their chauvinistic, soul-crushing husbands? As if a mere human could compete with clogged freeways and Sisyphean paper pushing (or its more up-to-date equivalent, paperless pushing) and burnt-coffee-laced afternoons counting the acoustic tiles in stale conference rooms, and the hours spent arguing over the wording of a memo that within minutes after its dissemination will be dragged into the now-two-dimensional circular file. Unless he’s an abusive alcoholic or something similar, to be more oppressive than a “real” job, a husband would have to possess tireless text-messaging thumbs: “Where’s my dry cleaning?” “Did you pick up my dry cleaning?” “Where are you shopping right now?” “No! No! I told you—no butter lettuce from Safeway, only Whole Foods!” (Come to think of it, this may be a fairly accurate bit of communication between a privileged mother and a micromanaged nanny.) Even providing a chilled martini at six o’clock and roast beef at seven to the legendary suburban alpha male of yore allowed most of one’s day to be fairly flexible. As for today’s poorer husbands, many of them are likely too tired from their job’s repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks—such as makin’ kahpies!—to continually oppress their wives....

Lock and Load--It's the Law!
...Oddly enough, considering the endless political battling over gun rights, the nation’s highest court has only once before ruled on the citizens’ inherent right to bear arms, and this was in the Roosevelt era. Gun control was one of the prime goals of the New Deal, partly as a backlash from the Tommy Gun era of Prohibition and the roaring twenties; also because in those distant days there was a very large and militant left, of which FDR was afraid. The New Deal was a desperate attempt to stave off much more far-reaching challenges to business-as-usual.

Cunningly, FDR’s strategy was to attack gun rights not by a head-on assault on the Second Amendment but by the devious and always deadly route of taxation. Taking weapons across state lines and even transferring ownership became costly activities. The Supreme Court affirmed this in 1939 in US v. Miller, ( a decision set up by Roosevelt’s Justice Department), simultaneously emphasizing that the Amendment confirmed the collective rights of a militia, not individual citizens, and that the arms did not include sawn-off shot guns or assault weapons.

For the next half century, the gun controllers pushed steadily forward, given helpful shoves by the assassinations of the Sixties, Reagan’s narrow escape, and the crack wars of the Eighties. The Democratic Party, listening particularly to its liberal, urban and feminine base, made gun control a major plank. The recoil came in 2000, with Al Gore’s defeat at the hands of George Bush. Guns, not Nader, were a prime factor in that narrow loss. Gore’s endorsement of gun control cost the Democrats Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado and the mountain states. The Democrats began to sideline the issue. The gun lobby weathered the crises of school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech. The Bush presidencies saw membership of the U.S. Supreme Court swing steadily to the right.

Europeans, snootily aghast at America’s 50 million households holding about 250 million guns, usually miss two important points. “Home defense” is a phrase with profound reverberations, as Scalia emphasized strongly in such paragraphs as the one cited above. How much it all had to do with killing Indians is for you to decide. And the gun lobby has been successful in anchoring their cause in the notion of a basic “freedom,” in an era when Americans correctly feel that freedoms – against unreasonable searches and seizures, or to a speedy trial – are being relentlessly eroded by government. ...

Myth of Consensus Explodes: APS Opens Global Warming Debate
The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming "incontrovertible."

In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,"There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity -- the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause -- has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.

Larry Gould, Professor of Physics at the University of Hartford and Chairman of the New England Section of the APS, called Monckton's paper an "expose of the IPCC that details numerous exaggerations and "extensive errors"...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Atheist soldier sues Army for 'unconstitutional' discrimination
... His sudden lack of faith, he said, cost him his military career and put his life at risk. Hall said his life was threatened by other troops and the military assigned a full-time bodyguard to protect him out of fear for his safety. Video Watch why Hall says his lack of faith almost got him killed »

In March, Hall filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, among others. In the suit, Hall claims his rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment were violated and suggests that the United States military has become a Christian organization.

"I think it's utterly and totally wrong. Unconstitutional," Hall said.

Hall said there is a pattern of discrimination against non-Christians in the military.

Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, after refusing to pray at his table, Hall said he was told to go sit somewhere else. In another incident, when he was nearly killed during an attack on his Humvee, he said another soldier asked him, "Do you believe in Jesus now?"

Hall isn't seeking compensation in his lawsuit -- just the guarantee of religious freedom in the military. Eventually, Hall was sent home early from Iraq and later returned to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas, to complete his tour of duty.

He also said he missed out on promotions because he is an atheist.

"I was told because I can't put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn't make a good leader," Hall said....

Monday, July 07, 2008

Decades later, still asking: Would I pull that switch?
...Consider the psychologist Stanley Milgram's obedience studies of the early 1960s that together form one of the darkest mirrors the field has held up to the human face. In a series of about 20 experiments, hundreds of decent, well-intentioned people agreed to deliver what appeared to be increasingly painful electric shocks to another person, as part of what they thought was a learning experiment. The "learner" was in fact an actor, usually seated out of sight in an adjacent room, pretending to be zapped.

Researchers, social commentators and armchair psychologists have pored through Milgram's data ever since, claiming psychological and cultural insights. Now, decades after the original work (Milgram died in 1984, at 51), two new papers illustrate the continuing power of the shock experiments — and the diverse interpretations they still inspire....

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Recession? Bring it on!
In the name of ‘saving the planet’, many in the chattering classes are praying for an economic slump.

...Although well-to-do commentators are the first to complain when inflation increases hit their mortgage rates and school fees, they don’t mind when they hit low-paid workers. In fact, many seem to hope that the economic slowdown will hit low-paid workers quite hard. A few years ago, for instance, when McDonald’s announced branch closures and subsequent redundancies, trendy, organic, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall expressed delight that this might spell the end for McDonald’s, and presumably also for its gormless employees and awful customers (2).

Superficially at least, today’s ‘bring on the recession’ champions use environmentalist rhetoric to disguise their deep-seated disdain for the masses. In the US, economics writer Fion MacCloud recently penned an article demonstrating ‘Ten Ways Recession Can Help the Environment’ (3). MacCloud argued that economic recession would mean fewer people buying fewer mobile phones and fewer cars, and fewer people flying abroad on holiday – and therefore, enforced poverty should be welcomed. From this standpoint, perhaps we should champion complete economic collapse? After all, famine and disease would mean there are fewer and fewer people… and thus would reduce humanity’s CO2 emissions further.

Indeed, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), which wants a world with fewer people, also believes that economic recession might be a very good thing. As spiked revealed in February this year, a spokesperson for the OPT believes that a recession will be positive since ‘if we keep on growing we’re doomed’ (see I agree with Ethan: bring on the recession!, by Brendan O’Neill).

Other environmentalists believe the coming recession has an ‘upside’ because it will force people to undertake more labour-intensive activities on a day-to-day basis. On the PlanetSave blog, one writer positively welcomes the recession because of ‘all the news stories about moms who now make their own laundry detergent and grow their own vegetables’ (4). How these developments can be considered positive is anyone’s guess. During the Western economic slump of the 1930s, and for much of the lifespan of the Soviet Union, such self-sufficiency was considered an embarrassing symbol of an inefficient and degenerate society. Now, in an historical period when a global division of labour is increasing productivity, rarely a week goes by without some broadsheet alluding to the ‘benefits’ of time-wasting self-sufficiency. ...

Americans Oppose Income Redistribution to Fix Economy
PRINCETON, NJ -- When given a choice about how government should address the numerous economic difficulties facing today's consumer, Americans overwhelmingly -- by 84% to 13% -- prefer that the government focus on improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans....