SocraticGadfly: 7/2/06 - 7/9/06

July 08, 2006

Walt Jocketty, buy a clue (and get Tony La Russa to do the same)

Sports Illustrated columnist John Donovan reports on the Cardinals’ trade for Angels’ working stiff moundsman Jeff Weaver.

Why hasn’t Tony The Red moved Adam Wainwright into the starting lineup? And, then there’s this disingeniousness from Jocketty:
The GM said he was more concerned with finding a run-producing hitter, preferably one he could stick into left field, than a pitcher.

Walt, you had one a year ago, name of Reggie Sanders. But, even with a new stadium and new lux box money, you opted to go cheap and not re-ink him. Oops …

July 06, 2006

The earlier you drink, the faster and harder you’re likely to fall

That’s the case with early drinking leading to alcoholism, according to the Boston University School of Health.

Drinking before age 14 increases your likelihood of later alcoholism more than 10-fold.
The researchers found that 47 percent of people who had started drinking before age 14 met criteria for alcohol dependence within 10 years, compared to 4 percent of those who started drinking at age 21. Twenty-seven percent of the men and women who started drinking before age 14 were alcohol dependent before the age of 25, compared with 4 percent of those who began drinking at 21.

Now, a reasonable counter-assumption would be that this could be a statistical, not a causal, correlation, such as depression or childhood abuse causing both the early onset of drinking and the susceptibility to alcoholism. But, not so fast>
Using statistical techniques, the researchers factored in the influence of multiple factors that could be related to early drinking and the development of alcohol dependence, such as antisocial behavior during childhood, a family history of alcoholism, depression and education level.

Even after controlling for such factors, people who started drinking early were 2.6 times more likely to have episodes of alcohol dependence lasting longer than year and nearly three times as likely to have 6 to 7 symptoms of alcohol dependence versus 3 to 5 symptoms.

So, even with factoring out other elements, the “priming” factor of early drinking has a threefold increase in causative power.

Now, unfortunately, one thing the study does not appear to address is physiological vs. psychological addiction and, to the degree they can be distinguished, whether the early drinking contributes more to the former or the latter. I’d guess the latter, given that, compared to many illicit drugs, alcohol is not hugely addictive physically.

Otherwise, based on my life experiences, this sounds pretty much spot-on.

More on Obama, with reflections on “civic religion”

First of all, “civic religion” is still religion, contrary to Justice Scalia’s spinning. It not only walks, talks and quacks like a duck, it even has a duck’s name. (Oh, and Nino, we have plenty of “unoriginalist” things in America; slavery is over and women can vote today!)

That said, I want to reply to Kevin Drum’s latest post in support of Obama’s “liberals hate religion” straw man. (Note: Kevin’s a self-identified atheist, but pretty much a squish on civil liberties in this area.)

Anyway, here’s what I had to say to him, with some further expansion.

-->I appreciate the social narrative and cohesiveness value religion has for many liberals and conservatives alike.

That said, I’m also a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and insist on a high church-state wall.

Part of Obama’s argument was trotting out a Democratic Leadership Council version of Constitutional originalism on First Amendment issues. And that just won’t fly. Maybe we still have the Baptists of the 1600s, but the nation's largest Baptist denomination, while still officially wanting a high wall as for state-religious DENOMINATION issues, wants a very low wall for state-religious DOCTRINE issues. It’s an end run around church-state issues.

In fact, if we take Obama to his logical conclusion, it would be OK to teach intelligent design, as long as the science teacher doesn’t identify himself as a Southern Baptist or say he learned about ID in his Sunday School class.

Oh, and while E.J. Dionne’s column on Obama’s speech had some good points, it kind of missed the mark here too.<--

July 04, 2006

Kos fib watch: Kos, AMERICAblog blame Bush for apparent Clinton snooping

Can we stop covering up about how bad Clinton ALSO was on civil liberties, and an itchy trigger finger?

DailyKos and AMERICAblog both try to finger Bush for wanting to start up warrantless domestic telephone spying by the National Security Agency before Sept. 11, 2001. However, the NSA program was geared up in the summer of 2000.

I quote Aravosis:
Bush reportedly decided to spy on your phone records BEFORE September 11 (header)

This is important because, if true, it negates Bush's entire argument that the spying was needed to fight the war on terror. There was no war on terror before September 11, so why did Bush reportedly decide to start the process enabling him to illegally spy on Americans?

Uhh, John… Markos… just one TINY problem. The program from which this originated was geared up in 2000. Uhh, lemme see, who was president then? Could it be pseudoliberal Slick Willie?

From the Bloomberg story:
The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court. …

The NSA initiative, code-named “Pioneer Groundbreaker,” asked AT&T unit AT&T Solutions to build exclusively for NSA use a network operations center which duplicated AT&T's Bedminster, New Jersey facility, the court papers claimed. That plan was abandoned in favor of the NSA acquiring the monitoring technology itself, plaintiffs' lawyers Bruce Afran said.

The NSA says on its website that in June 2000, the agency was seeking bids for a project to “modernize and improve its information technology infrastructure.” The plan, which included the privatization of its “non-mission related” systems support, was said to be part of Project Groundbreaker.

(Plaintiffs’ lawyer Carl) Mayer said the Pioneer project is “a different component” of that initiative.
Mayer and Afran said an unnamed former employee of the AT&T unit provided them with evidence that the NSA approached the carrier with the proposed plan. Afran said he has seen the worker's log book and independently confirmed the source's participation in the project. He declined to identify the employee.

So, June, 2000 is well before Inauguration Day of Jan. 20, 2001, correct?

Besides, simple math would tell you that exactly seven months before Sept. 11, 2001 would be less than a month after the inauguration, even if the official request came out of Bush’s NSA, not Clinton’s. All top NSA staff at that time would be holdovers from the Clinton Administration. The idea clearly originated there.

The New York Times, right-wing blog nuttery and the pseudo-outing of Rumsfeld’s Maryland home

In addition to the NYT photographer having permission to take pictures of Rummy’s house, this is all in the public domain. In fact, if St. Michaels, Md., or Talbot County, Md., have an appraisal district anywhere near as computerized as Dallas County, here in Texas, Rummy’s date of ownership of the house, purchase price, improvements since purchase, and current taxable value will ALL be online. So, too, if this is anything like the Dallas County Appraisal District, will be a link to Yahoo Maps' webpage for the address in question.

July 03, 2006

Yet more realism on biofuels for Carl Pope and other fluffers

Professors James Jordan and James Powell provide some of the best commentary yet on why biofuels simply cannot be a major part of getting us past the petroleum transportation economy.

Even if all of the 300 million acres (500,000 square miles) of currently harvested U.S. cropland produced ethanol, it wouldn't supply all of the gasoline and diesel fuel we now burn for transport, and it would supply only about half of the needs for the year 2025. And the effects on land and agriculture would be devastating.

And, of course, that would leave no cropland left to grow, er, crops. The two James then address the other side of the coin — biofuels just can’t deliver on the energy content side.
It’s difficult to understand how advocates of biofuels can believe they are a real solution to kicking our oil addiction. Agriculture Department studies of ethanol production from corn — the present U.S. process for ethanol fuel — find that an acre of corn yields about 139 bushels. At an average of about 2.5 gallons per bushel, the acre then will yield about 350 gallons of ethanol. But the fuel value of ethanol is only about two-thirds that of gasoline — 1.5 gallons of ethanol in the tank equals 1 gallon of gasoline in terms of energy output.

Moreover, it takes a lot of input energy to produce ethanol: for fertilizer, harvesting, transport, corn processing, etc. After subtracting this input, the net positive energy available is less than half of the figure cited above. Some researchers even claim that the net energy of ethanol is actually negative when all inputs are included — it takes more energy to make ethanol than one gets out of it.

And, it’s not just corn that’s limited, the authors make clear.
Similar limitations and problems apply to growing any crop for biofuels, whether switchgrass, hybrid willow, hybrid poplar or whatever. Optimistically, assuming that switchgrass or some other crop could produce 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, over twice as much as we can get from corn plus stover, and that its net energy was 60,000 Btu per gallon, ethanol from 300 million acres of switchgrass still could not supply our present gasoline and diesel consumption, which is projected to double by 2025. The ethanol would meet less than half of our needs by that date.

Anyway, I’ve quoted more than enough of their column to show you that Carl Pope is just plain wrong about the so-called “enormous promise” of biofuels.

Carl, there is no royal road to cutting our petroleum usage.

Culture-centric war; great idea, only about, oh, three years too late

To be fair, this is probably the “Old Army’s” fault as much as it is the “New Army Secretary of Defense’s” stumbling:

The Dallas Morning News reports on the Army’s latest hearts and minds efforta .
FORT POLK, La. — The meeting with the sheik started well enough. Hands were clasped, tea poured.

“How are the children?” Maj. Elbert Valentine, 38, inquired politely as the U.S. Army officers gathered around a rose-colored carpet.

But the man in the billowing white headdress didn't want to chat about soccer this time. He wanted to talk about Haditha.

“We refuse your presence in our village at all,” he said, staring coldly at his guests.

A hidden camera captured this simulated encounter on a cinema-quality set in the forests of south-central Louisiana. Here at the Army's new "engagement university," Texas troops have been practicing the art of making friends and influencing potential insurgents.

Troops are being trained in “culture-centric warfare,” negotiation and public relations – weapons that the Army says are sometimes more effective than rifle fire in a counterinsurgency campaign.

“We’re not going to win this with guns anymore. You’re going to win with ideas and attitudes,” said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, 40, of Harker Heights, Texas, the new 2/5 Battalion commander with the 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

The fake sheik, by mentioning the magic word “Haditha,” showed that it’s too late to win with “ideas and attitudes,” too. But, apparently, the soldiers in this exercise are so clueless about this that the “fake sheik” caught them off guard.
If there was a civilian massacre, it involved Marines, not the Army. And whatever happened, it took place last year in another part of the country.

The reason they don’t get it is that our soldiers are so culture-centric that they have a blind spot the size of Texas.
The U.S. military hasn't done enough of (hearts and minds), says British general Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who served with the Americans in Iraq. He has characterized his American counterparts as culturally inept nice guys who inadvertently offended many of the Iraqi people they came to help.

Then, more stating of the obvious, followed by the Army’s “Yeah, right” response:
Critics say it may be too late for the U.S. military to get smart about counterinsurgency in Iraq. But this will not be the last guerrilla threat the U.S. military will face, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., predicted in the January-February edition of Military Review.

C’mon, general; just like you forgot whatever lessons you may have learned in Vietnam, you’ll forget this one soon enough. Or, even worse, you’ll willfully dismiss it with a “that was then, this is now” or “this is the new new Army” mindset.

July 02, 2006

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope is right on a lot of things, but not ...

… But not on his knee-jerk dismissal of, and fear of, nuclear power.

In his July/August 2006 “Ways and Means” column, Pope takes Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore to the woodshed for daring to advocate in favor of nuclear energy.

In doing so, Pope threw a lot of stuff against the wall, including rosy scenarios for biofuels, fusing electric generation from nuclear power with transportation fuels needs, whether supplied by petroleum, biofuels, or other sources, and generally displaying a high level of illogic.

What follows is my letter to the editor of Sierra magazine, where his column appears. Let’s see if the mag actually runs it.

Beginning with the ad hominem that nuclear energy supporters in general, including Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore, are apparently “thoroughly unmoored from reality,” Carl Pope’s “Fantasy Nuclear” Ways and Means essay is a study in refusal to consider dialogue or reason on the issue, including his own use of non sequiturs, rosy scenarios and other misleading mental devices.

First, besides global warming, Carl, there’s another issue out there. It’s called Peak Oil. I know you’ve heard of people such as James Kunstler and Kenneth Deffeyes. Apparently you haven’t fully absorbed what they have to say on the subject.

Second, biofuels are a rosy scenario. Corn-based ethanol, at best, is break-even on energy return on energy investment (EROEI). The highly-touted, highly-puffed switchgrass will likely be no better. And, whether via corn, or “untapped” biomass like switchgrass, were we to use enough of America’s landscape to put a serious dent in our fuel demands, we’d simultaneously be putting a significant dent in our food supply.

Pope, and readers who want the facts on biofuels and other Peak Oil issues, are invited to visit the highly informative The Oil Drum website.

Third, electric generation via nuclear fission has nothing to do with automobile transportation issues, unless Pope is advocating we develop a 100-precent all-electric plug-in fleet of cars and trucks for America’s ground transportation needs.

The real competition, as Moore knows, is between nuclear fission and coal. No, not natural gas, coal. As natural gas prices soar, and as the variety of its demands grow (including for fertilizer feedstock to raise those biofuels, Pope), more and more under-planning or under-construction power plants are looking at coal. If they have to pay for adequate scrubber technology, they will. If they don’t, in states such as the Texas where I live, they will gladly accept that.

Besides, under the thesis that Peak Oil is coming sooner rather than later, coal itself is going to have another demand placed on it — coal gasification, or coal dieselfication to be more precise — for transportation use.

Patrick Moore IS cognizant of all these issues, and that’s why he’s said nuclear energy needs to be part of the mix in supplying our energy needs.
As far as proliferation, Moore didn’t fall off the turnip wagon yesterday. He knows this is a serious issue deserving serious consideration. But, it’s not “First World” nations like the United States that are the problem with proliferation.

As for nuclear plant safety, Moore certainly knows that is a serious issue also, as do I. But, riffing back to natural gas, I personally would fear a terrorist attack on a liquid natural gas facility as much as or more than one on a nuclear facility.

As for subsidies, EVERY energy source gets them in some way or another. U.S. troops in the Middle East subsidizes oil. Major tax breaks subsidize ethanol. Coal and natural gas get their own breaks Lesser tax breaks, fleeting as they can be at times, subsidize alternative fuels and energy sources.

I strongly urge Pope — and open-minded Sierrans — to consider a realistic growth in the use of nuclear power, rather than demonizing people like Patrick Moore, and myself, as “nuke cheerleaders,” with a pejorative taint.

A busy month

I averaged more than two posts a day — more than 60 total — for all of June. And I’m not a professional blogger; plus, my day job can sometimes take well more than 40, though that’s definitely rare in the summertime.

And now I have a whole set of new posts to start July.

You think your state is dry? Try New Mexico

Here’s the details.

Santa Fe has received only 1.2 inches of precipitation during the seven-month period since November, the lowest in 133 years of record keeping. The 0.41 inches in Albuquerque is the lowest in 114 years of data.

And in Las Vegas, a community along the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the 60-month data show precipitation 18.71 inches below normal, according to Charlie Liles, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service in Albuquerque.

“That’s essentially a year’s precipitation over a five-year period,” Liles said.

As a result, Las Vegas has imposed some of New Mexico’s most restrictive water rules. Outdoor watering has been banned since last fall, leaving lawns withering in once-lush neighborhoods.

Good thing that our president knows global warming and climate change aren’t human-caused, right? (Yes, it’s true that some of this is cyclical. And, it’s also true that what pioneers considered “normal” precipitation years 90-100 years ago were actually “wet” to “very wet” years. In a sense, that’s good; eventually, if it gets painful enough, people will start moving back out of desert states. New Mexico isn’t so bad, but Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nev., could stand to lose half their populations.)

And the worst may be yet to come.
Liles said forecasting models suggest precipitation should be close to average in July and August, meaning the late-summer downpours may be coming.

But he offered a word of caution: The most recent years for poor snowpack in New Mexico were 2000 and 2002 — close together over the 56-year study span. Liles wonders whether those years might indicate a trend toward deepening drought.

Governments leaning on media for using leakers — not just in America

And no, it’s not in the Third World I’m talking about either.

Here’s the details.

The German government has been spying on journalists since the 1990s.

The Danish government is taking two newspaper reporters to trial this fall over a leak-based story about the intelligence-contradicted drive to invasion of Iraq.

The British government is taking two reporters to trial over a story that Prime Minister Blair worked to talk President Bush out of bombing Arab TV station al-Jazeera’s headquarters.

The Dutch secret service tapped phone calls of two reporters covering government corruption.

Some democracy, eh?

Isn’t Obama engaging in his own stereotyping?

I’m not going to post a link to Barak Obama’s recent speech about how progressives are allegedly anti-religious. You’ve surely heard about the speech yourself, and maybe even read it, or more extended commentary about snippets of it.

I do want to comment on one specific thing, though.

Obama said that white politicians running for president or other major offices who just drop in on black churches to rally the vote and maybe collect some campaign donations are, in essence, giving them the back of the hand.

BUT, but, but … it sounds like he’s assuming that all these white politicians never go to church except when they drop into black churches for political reasons.

Wow. Isn’t that a Grade A stereotype?

In fact, polls consistently show that Democrats cite religious purpose as guiding political decisions almost as much and as often as Republicans. And, comparing Republicans and Democrats who say religion is a major factor in their lives, the two groups have fairly similar rates of church attendance. Oh, sure, the Republicans are ahead, but the Democrats are more than Christmas-and-Easter Christians or Passover-and-Yom Kippur Jews.

C’mon, Barak. Stop calling plays from the Marshall Wittman playbook.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If Obama were white, smart, progressive Demcrats and activists would have ignored his DLC politics long ago and put him on the second team. But, because he’s black…

Running away from acting black, or running away from acting ghetto?

There IS a difference, although this AP article fails to distinguish between the two.

A tall, black lawyer, speaking softly and sitting down quietly to avoid intimidating others? That’s running away from acting too “black.”

Talking softly to offset baggy pants? Being told in business school not to wear earrings? A different story. Do you think much of corporate America likes whites wearing earrings on the job, either? Or that people wouldn’t have a certain opinion of whites wearing “saggy baggies”? Or that it’s just whites who object to blacks wearing them?

I live in a majority-black city, with an even more majority-black public school population … AND a black superintendent. And, he’s stiffened the dress code since he started here three years ago.

Get a clue, white AP writers. Recognize the difference between “acting black” and “acting ghetto.” And report it; don’t smooth over it.

Plus, the story cites a statistic like this:
Black men are 20 percent more likely to die of heart disease than whites, and they have the highest rates of hypertension in the world, according to the National Medical Association.

I’m not disputing the quote. I AM disputing whether or not there is a causal correlation between this statistic and black men allegedly having to play “multiple roles.”

The fact is that white American men themselves have one of the highest hypertension rates and heart disease rates in the world, because of our overabundance of food, lack of exercise and resulting obesity rates. To the degree that black rates are higher, a higher-fat diet and higher rates of smoking are the primary causes.

Now, are these dietary and smoking difference driven by stress? I’d argue likely not. Poorer people of any race are more likely to have a poorer-quality diet, especially one high in fat and refined carbohydrates. That’s minority women, as well as minority men, and that’s Hispanics and American Indians, not just African-Americans. On smoking, there’s less direct correlation, primarily because American Indian smoking rates in the U.S. aren’t that high. But black (and Hispanic) rates are.

Get a clue, white AP writers. Learn logical reasoning and the difference between causal correlations and statistical correlations.