Archive for September 2006

If You Want To Watch A Documentary on 9/11

I don't know much about the ABC 9/11 special everyone is arguing about, except to say that I am always suspicious of dramatic reenactments.  If you want a quick answer to whose fault the attacks were, I will give it to you and save you time:  The terrorists.  And if you want to to know which party's president ignored terrorism the most, I will answer that as well:  It's a tie.  Clinton ignored it for longer**, while Bush ignored it closer to the event.  To be fair, no one really expected the type of attack on September 11, so the blame game is kind of silly.

If you want to watch a great documentary that focuses on the terrorists and their victims, and not the politicians, the National Geographic special Inside 9/11, in two 2-hour parts, is being replayed tonight.  It is fabulous.

** By the way, Clinton supporters could defend their man and his attentiveness to terrorism by pointing out that most of the Patriot Act was actually proposed by Clinton in the mid-1990's.   Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I haven't heard many Democrats making this particular argument.

Greatest Onion Issue, Five Years Later

Few people in September, 2001 were willing to try to get us laughing again.  One notable exception was the Onion, which produced what was probably their greatest issue.  In particular, this is still dead-on five years later:

In a televised address to the American people Tuesday, a determined
President Bush vowed that the U.S. would defeat "whoever exactly it is
we're at war with here."...

Bush is acting with the full support of Congress, which on Sept. 14
authorized him to use any necessary force against the undetermined
attackers. According to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the
congressional move enables the president to declare war, "to the extent
that war can realistically be declared on, like, maybe three or four
Egyptian guys, an Algerian, and this other guy who kind of looks
Lebanese but could be Syrian. Or whoever else it might have been.
Because it might not have been them."...

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the war against terrorism will be different from any previous model of modern warfare.

"We were lucky enough at Pearl Harbor to be the victim of a craven
sneak attack from an aggressor with the decency to attack military
targets, use their own damn planes, and clearly mark those planes with
their national insignia so that we knew who they were," Rumsfeld said.
"Since the 21st-century breed of coward is not affording us any such
luxury, we are forced to fritter away time searching hither and yon for
him in the manner of a global easter-egg hunt."

"America is up to that challenge," Rumsfeld added....

Gramm said that the U.S. has already learned a great deal about the
details of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and
Pentagon, and that a rough psychological profile of its mastermind has
been constructed.

"For example, we know that the mastermind has the approximate
personality of a terrorist," Gramm said. "Also, he is senseless. New
data is emerging all the time."

Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, I was in Manhattan on a business trip with my wife.  I almost never take my wife on business trips, but we had been living in Seattle for several years, and my wife, who had lived in NYC for years, wanted to go back and visit.

About 7:30 AM, I went down to breakfast in the W Hotel, where I was staying.  I was working at the time for an aviation startup, and in one of the great moments of bad timing, I was in New York that day to make presentations to investors, the theme of which was that commercial aviation was in the midst of a recovery, and the time was right to invest in a commercial aviation venture. 

Part way into breakfast, my wife came down to find me, and tell us we needed to see what was on TV.  We went up to one of my investor's rooms.  He had a terraced penthouse (its good to be the king) from which we watched the disaster unfold, with CNN on in the background.

The next 24 hours were among the weirdest of my life.  For a while, we actually tried to hold our scheduled meetings, but a number of attendees had friends and family who worked in the WTC, and we called it off.  I wandered the streets of Manhattan, where bizarre rumors were flying at every street corner.  People ducked in fear every time an airplane rushed over, by this time all air force fighter planes.  By noon, dust-covered people walking up from downtown got to our area, and streamed past for the rest of the day.  Strangely, I actually ran into a friend of mine who had the last Hertz rent-a-car in the city, and we made plans to drive out of the city the next day.

Phone and cell service were spotty, but we eventually got through to the person taking care of our kids back in Seattle as well as our parents.  I had not told my mom we were in NYC, so she began our call by saying "I'm so glad all my kids are no where near NY" and I had to tell her, "Uhh, mom..."

That night was like a scene out of some Charlton Heston post-apocalypse movie.  Police were only letting cars out of the island, not back onto it, so by nightfall the city was empty and dead quiet.  We finally found a restaurant in Times Square open, and the Square was empty.  There was maybe one car driving through every few minutes.  A few roller bladers where skating around Times Square, just because they could.

The next day we played find the exit from Manhattan.  We knew from various reports that there was at least one bridge off the island open, but from either confusion or misplaced security concerns, no one seemed to know which bridge.  We began to circumnavigate Manhattan, looking for an exit.  Finally, a police officer told us the only way out was to drive all the way north through Harlem on the surface streets and get on what I think was the GW bridge.  Anyway, that is what we did (finding out in the process that Harlem was not the hell-hole that gets portrayed in movies, at least the part we saw).  I have never, ever been so happy to get to New Jersey.  I wanted to kiss the ground.  Of course, we still had a short drive to Seattle ahead of us, but that was anti-climactic.

It was only later I began learning how many people I knew died in those buildings that day.  I guess I should have thought about it, given the schools I attended.  The death toll for Harvard Business School graduates alone was staggering.  Five years later, watching the retrospectives, nothing about that day seems any less horrible.  Time, at least for me, has not softened the magnitude of this disaster. 

The only silver lining I can come up with is that we have gone five years without a major terrorist attack on this country, though other's have been attacked.  Walking around on September 12, we were all sure that this was just the front-end of a wave of massive attacks.  So far, whether through luck or skill, we have avoided this fate. 

One thing I will say is that we always prepare for the last attack.  We have spent a lot of time making sure no terrorists can take over a plane with toenail clippers and fly it into another building.   But that kind of attack was obsolete 20 minutes after the second plane hit the WTC -- It didn't even work on United 93.

What are People Afraid Of?

I just don't know why conservatives are so afraid to let folks like Khatami speak in the US.  Sure, he is a lying dictatorial human-rights-suppressing scumbag, but so what?  Its good to let people like this speak as much as they want.  They always give themselves away.  There were counter-protests and lots of debate about Iran in the news and on the nets, and that is as it should be.

I suppose conservatives real fear is that the press will, as they sometimes do, throw away their usual skepticism and cynicism and report his remarks as if they were those of a statesman rather than a thug on a PR mission.  But that's a different problem, and not a good enough excuse to suspend free speech, even for a man who granted it to no one else in his own country.  (I have never bought into the "media bias" critique, either conservative or liberal, in the press, because this seems to imply some active conspiracy exists to manage the news to some end.  Rather, I think it is more fair to say that reporters tend to apply too little skepticism to stories with which they are sympathetic.  For example, many reporters think homelessness is a big problem, so they were willing to uncritically accept inflated and baseless numbers for the size of the homeless population, numbers they would have fact-checked the hell out of if they had come from, say, an oil company to whom they are unsympathetic or skeptical of.)

On the same topic, I don't know why conservatives are so worried about this story of an increase in students from Saudi Arabia.   It used to be that we had confidence that people from oppressive countries would have their eyes opened by living in the US.  We have always believed that intellectually, freedom was more compelling than dictatorial control, and would win over hearts and minds of immigrants.  Our foreign policy with China, for example, is counting on engagement to change China.  Have we given up on this?

I Have Never Even Been To Rochester

There is nothing bloggers enjoy more than ranking themselves. Brian Gongol issues the latest rankings, this time of Business and Economics blogs.  Coyote Blog actually makes the rankings, with between 8-9% of the traffic of the leader Marginal Revolution (which is a great site).  Gongol uses a newspaper analog to say that if Marginal Revolution is USA Today, I am the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Uh, OK. 

Maybe someone can set up trade futures on business blog rankings.  If that were to happen, you know what Marginal Revolution would title the post....

By the way, he leaves off two of my favorites, probably because they are not in the NZ Bear data base:  Cafe Hayek and Mises Blog.

Kudos to the IJ

If you are not familiar with the Institute for Justice, the IJ is like the ACLU but from an alternate universe where the ACLU was not founded by a Stalinist and actually believed in property rights.  The IJ represented Ms. Kelo in her fight against eminent domain to aid Pfizer in Connecticut, and often takes on stupid government licensing programs.  For example, the IJ is representing some folks in New Mexico who think that it will not materially harm public safety if they do interior design without a government license:

If you need a license to arrange flowers
in a vase, it stands to reason that you'd need a license to arrange
furniture in a house"”not to mention picking paint and window
treatments. Or so the state of New Mexico (along with four other
states) seems to think. To be fair, you can do interior design in New
Mexico without a license; you just can't call it interior design, or
call yourself an interior designer, which makes it hard for potential
customers to find you. Today two people who in most states would call
themselves interior designers filed a federal lawsuit objecting to the
state's protectionist censorship on First Amendment grounds.

In the past, the IJ has also fought for the right of hair braiders and casket salesmen to operate without a state license.

Confirming What We've Suspected

I usually try to wait a while to let sources like this get vetted.  With the proviso that it may turn out that this guy didn't have the access he says he had, this certainly is pretty damning, though I don't think many Bush critics will be surprised.  This is a quote in a local paper from an interview of Brigadier General Mark Scheid, who claims to be one of the top planners for the Iraq war (Hat tip:  Orin Kerr at Volokh, emphasis added)

A day or two [after 9/11], Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to
war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to
go fast.

Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan ... Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq." . . .

Planning was kept very hush-hush in those early days.

"There was only a handful of people, maybe five or six, that were
involved with that plan because it had to be kept very, very quiet."

There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. And
in the beginning, the planners were just expanding on it.

"Whether we were going to execute it, we had no idea," Scheid said.

Eventually other military agencies - like the transportation and Army materiel commands - had to get involved.

They couldn't just "keep planning this in the dark," Scheid said.

Planning continued to be a challenge.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that
everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to
go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to
leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called
Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion
operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next
person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for
Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops
that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

If true, this is hard to defend.  I guess the administration could argue that they didn't want to clutter up their core planning effort with contingencies.  Beyond this being pretty bad planning practice, it also makes no sense because at the time this planning started, according to the administration time line, the Iraq War itself was just a contingency.

Circumscribing the "War on Terror"

One of the reasons I blog is that the act of writing helps me clarify my thinking on certain issues.  I have written a number of times about my concerns over the "war powers" this administration is taking upon itself.  Arnold Kling's article in TCS Daily helped me clarify a better framework for thinking about my issues.  I can now put my concerns in two categories:

  • The administration is going too far in using the war as an excuse to circumvent a number of Constitutional protections, from habeas corpus to search and seizure.  This does not mean that I am necessarily against all new activities, but they need to be initiated within our Constitutional framework.  Take surveillance activities.  Its not unreasonable to think that terrorism demands new surveillance tools.  But the principle we have always followed for surveillance is that Congress authorizes the power and the judiciary gets some type of review of the targets and methods.  Bush seems to have become impatient with separation of powers to the point that he does not even try to engage the other arms of the government, instead using the war to claim a fiat power.  (It should be noted that even when the separation of powers is respected, as with the Patriot Act, mistakes are made and we can go too far.  However, at least we can debate it and there are Congressmen we can hold accountable).
  • The second category of problem I have is with the open-ended nature of the war.  Calling this the "War on Terror" is only marginally more precise and limiting than saying we are fighting the "War against Bad Stuff."  If one asks, "Who are we fighting", the administration answers "Whoever the President says we are fighting against".  If one asks "When is it over" the administration either answers "Whenever the President says it is" or else, probably more honestly, they say "not for a long, long time."

In terms of civil liberties, the second point may be the most problematic.  Most citizens will grant the President some special war powers (as in fact the Constitution does), though we can argue whether the current administration has gone too far in defining these powers for themselves.   But if you combine this with letting the administration define exactly who the enemy is and how long the war lasts, it makes for a combination deadly to civil liberties.

Take the example of detention of enemy combatants.  Administration supporters argue that we have always been authorized to hold enemy combatants until the end of the war, as we did in WWII.  And so we did.  We were at war with Germany, so we detained German soldiers we captured until the end of the war.  Note that these are definitions that everyone at the time could agree on -- ie everyone knew what a German soldier was and everyone knew that "end of the war" meant when we marched into Berlin.  Few German detainees were held for much more than a year.  By the way, it is interesting to note that even in WWII, we abused this notion.  The administration defined "enemy combatant" as "anyone in the US of Japanese descent", so that we ended up interning innocent American citizens for years, much to our shame today.

However, in the current "war", an enemy combatant is anyone the administration says is an enemy combatant (at least in their theory) and "for the duration" means as long as the administration cares to hold them, up to and including "forever." 

Conservatives wish to argue that the "War on Terror" is a new kind of war and demands new tools to fight it, which they use to justify all kinds of secret searches and detainments.  Fine, but then it also needs new types of civil liberties checks.  Coming back to our detention example, in WWII it was not really necessary to have some kind of judicial review on the question of whether a captured German soldier was an enemy combatant;  the uniform was a pretty good giveaway.  However, such a review is necessary today, since the enemy combatants languishing at Gitmo (many of who I am willing to believe are bad guys) don't have any identifying uniforms or paperwork.

If I read him right, Kling is saying something similar:  Some security activities that were traditionally not allowed may be necessary, but for every civil liberties give-back there needs to be a countervailing new control or check on government activity:

On the whole, Posner makes a persuasive case for tilting the judicial
balance in favor of reasonable efforts to promote security rather than
strict-constructionist civil libertarianism. However, I believe that
what we need to do is re-build our civil libertarian fortresses, not
simply retreat from them. That is why I favor much stronger accountability for agencies engaged in surveillance. It is why I am proposing here a formal process for naming our enemies.

You Can't Make Decisions for Yourself

A frequent topic of this blog is to point out situations where technocrats translate their distrust for individual decision-making into the justification for government control

Kevin Drum provides me with one of the best examples I have seen of late of this phenomena of using distrust of individual decision-making to justify government intervention, in part because he is so honest and up-front about it.  I usually try not to quote another blogger's posts in total, because I want to give folks an incentive to go visit the site, but in this case I need to show the whole thing (the extensive comments are still worth a visit):

If we treat healthcare like any other market, allowing consumers
free rein to purchase the services they like best, will it produce high
quality results? A recent study suggests not:

from the Rand Corp. think tank, the University of California at Los
Angeles and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs asked 236
elderly patients at two big managed-care plans, one in the Southwest
and the other in the Northeast, to rate the medical care they were
getting. The average score was high "” about 8.9 on a scale from zero to

....In the second part of their study, the medical researchers
systematically examined 13 months of medical records to gauge the
quality of care the same elderly patients had received....The average
score wasn't as impressive as those in the patient-satisfaction
surveys: 5.5 on a 10-point scale. But here's the interesting part:
Those patients who graded the quality of their care as 10 weren't any
more likely to be getting high-quality care than those who gave it a
grade of 5. The most-satisfied patients didn't get better medical care
than the least-satisfied.

Surprise! Patients are
poor judges of whether they're getting good care. And if consumer
preferences don't map to high quality care, then a free market in
healthcare won't necessarily produce better results or higher
efficiency, as it does in most markets.

Back to the drawing board. Perhaps a national healthcare system
would be a better bet to reduce costs, cover more people, provide
patients with more flexibility, and produce superior outcomes. After
all, why are we satisfied with allowing the French to have a better
healthcare system than ours even though we're half again richer than

There is it, in black and white:  Most of you individual slobs out there cannot be trusted to make good health care decisions for yourselves, so the government should do it for you.  (And by the way, who the hell thinks the French have a better health care system, but that's off-topic for today).

Here is the false premise:  If the intellectuals who ran the study judged that the individuals involved were getting poor care when the individuals themselves thought is was good care, this does not necessarily mean the individuals being studied were wrong.  It may very well mean they have different criteria for judging health care quality and value.  In fact, what goes unquestioned here, and I guess the reader is supposed to swallow, is that there is some sort of Platonic ideal of "high-quality care" that the people who run this study have access to.

But this is ridiculous.   Does high-quality mean fast?  painless?  private?  successful?  pleasant? convenient?  I, for example, have all the patience of an 8-year-old who just ate three pieces of birthday cake washed down by two Cokes.  I need stuff now, now, now.  I hate gourmet restaurants where meals take 3 hours.  Many gourmands, on the other hand, would probably shoot themselves before eating some of the food I eat.  We have different standards.

Let's take an example from another industry:  Cars.  Every year, the "experts" at Consumer Reports and Car and Driver try out all the new cars and publish the two or three they think are the best.  So, does this mean that everyone who does not buy one of these cars selected by the experts as the best are making a bad decision?  Does this fact tell us the government should step in and buy their cars for them because they can't be trusted to make the right evaluations?   NO!  Of course not.  It means that the people who buy other types of cars have different criteria and priorities in judging what a "high-quality" car is.  Some want high gas mileage.  Some want a tight interior with leather.  Some want a big honkin' engine.  Some want a truck jacked way up in the air.  Some want room to carry five kids.   You get the idea.

There are at least two better explanations for the study results.  Let's first be clear what the study results were:  The study found that the patients studied graded health care differently than did the people who ran the study.  That's all it found.  This could mean that the intellectuals who ran the study and the individuals studied judged care on different dimensions and with different priorities.  Or it could mean that the individuals studied had incomplete information about their care and their choices.  Neither justifies a government takeover of the industry.  (In fact, to the latter point about information, markets that are truly allowed by the government to be free, which health care has not, often develop information sources for consumers, like the car magazines mentioned above.)

The thinking in Drum's post betrays the elitist-technocratic impulses behind a lot of the world's bad government.  Look at "progressive" causes around the world, and you will see a unifying theme of individual decisions that are not trusted, whether its a poor Chinese farmer who can't be trusted to choose the right factory work or an American worker who can't be trusted to make her own investment decisions for retirement.

Postscript:  In some past era, I might have called this one of the worst excuses for fascism I had ever heard.  Unfortunately, Brad DeLong recently took that title with his post that the government needs to take even more money from the rich because the rich are ostentatious and that hurts other people's feelings.  No really, I don't exaggerate, he said exactly that.  If somehow you have missed this one, look here.

Wanted: Honesty of Purpose

Apparently, conservative Republicans are gearing up for a big Congressional push on "border security", hoping to decouple it from any discussion of immigration liberalization.

I know from my email and comments that many of my readers disagree with my stand for open immigration.  Reasonable people can disagree, but the hypocrisy of the "border security" and its linking to the war on terror really set me on edge.

If you are a "border security" supporter, then say what you mean -- that you want to string a lot of razor wire and enlist the US Army to secure the border from ... poor people looking for a job.  I get email every other day from the "minutemen" who triumph their brave defense of the border.  I will virtually guarantee that they have not found a single terrorist and probably have not found a single person coming over the border solely for criminal intent, and that 100% of their impact has been to set the authorities on people who are looking for work.  Yes I know that foreign born people looking for work in the US without the proper paperwork is currently illegal, but so is speeding and making a rolling stop at a stop sign  (which are, by the way, a lot more dangerous).  The question is, who is being harmed?  To be precise, the government's job is not to "secure the borders" but to "secure its citizens".  Doing so presupposes we can clearly state, "against what?"

Yeah, but what about the terrorists?  Don't make me laugh.  There are so many other, easier ways for a terrorist to get into the US that every terrorist act to date has been committed by people who came through normal border checkpoints and not across the Sonoran desert.  And I have written several times about open immigration would actually make it harder on known terrorists entering illegally, by eliminating the camouflage of other people crossing the desert for them to hide in.  And besides, every plan I have ever seen of late involves a wall along the Mexican border, but nothing along the Canadian border.  A terrorist can sneak over either just as easily, so a plan that was really aimed at terrorism would be putting walls on both borders.

I am sympathetic to the argument that you can't provide full government handouts, err, benefits to everyone who shows up at the border.  So fix the eligibility rules on government benefits, as I suggested in my plan here.

So lets be honest.  If you want border security, lets not pretend that a wall along the Mexican border  is about terrorism or security.  Its about stopping people who were not born in this country from working here.  Though I am opposed to the efforts, it is actually kind of refreshing to see nativist groups going after day labor centers.  This at least represents an honest and open statement of their intentions, that they want to prevent a certain class of people from getting work.

Update: Kerry Howley at Reason has some similar thoughts

Tall People Rule!

This makes perfect sense to me.  The fact that I am 6'-4" tall has nothing to do with it:

Economists have long been irritated by the weird fact that tall people
have better jobs and earn more money. Many explanations have been
offered, various forms of social and individual discrimination first
among them. But two Princeton economists disagree: "In this paper, we offer a simpler explanation: On average, taller people earn more because they are smarter."

Update: I am amazed that I even have to say this, but of course I am having fun with this and don't take it seriously (I can't believe all the emails this has generated).  Besides, just think about the math for a minute.  There is a broad normal distribution of intelligence for both short and tall people.  The study says the averages of these two distributions diverge a bit.  But even if they do, the distributions themselves are much, much wider than this divergence.  This means in practice, even if true, this study has no predictive power for individuals you meet.  Short and tall people will be both smart and dumb.  It only means that if you somehow met all 300 million people in the US, you might notice you met a few more smart-tall people than smart-short people, but that is all it would mean.  Now, I do believe tall people might make more money.  There is good evidence that tall people get disproportionately favored in hiring and promotions than equally qualified folks who are altitude challenged.

Now, if you said short people were touchier and more over-sensitive than tall people, I would have a hard time disproving it from my email.

Vote Buying?

This reminded me a bit of the Michael Keaton Batman movie, where the Joker was handing out money to voters in a bid for popular support:

The Capitol Hill newspaper writes that Democratic
House challengers "think they have found a clever way to harness voter
anger over high gasoline prices" by selling it for less, a move that
Republicans defending their seats say is "tantamount to vote buying."

Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) has asked the U.S. attorney in
Louisville to investigate whether his opponent, Democrat Mike Weaver,
violated criminal code with his recent "cheap gas event"
at an Elizabethtown station, where motorists filled up for $1.22 a
gallon "“ the price of gasoline when Rep. Lewis took office in 1994.

Beyond the obvious question of just what the hell Ron Lewis had to do with or could have done to stop the run-up of gas prices from $1.22 to their current levels, it would be interesting if this turns out to be legal at the same time that actual political speech is illegal.

I don't know election law very well.  Clearly handing out subsidized gas below cost as part of a political rally is roughly equivalent to handing out $20 bills to anyone who attends said rally.  The party officials involved argue that this activity is legal as long as there is no way to track who got the largess or to tie the money handouts to actual voting decisions:

"The gas is available to whomever wishes to purchase it
at the subsidized sale price for a short time ... there's no condition
attached," Bauer told the newspaper, adding that there is no way to
track whether motorists purchasing the lower-priced fuel are registered
to vote in the district the candidate is running for, or whether they
will vote at all.

I don't know election law very well, so I will ask the readers.  If I was running for office, and holding a publicity event at which I handed out $20 bills to attendees, would that be a legal election practice if, as with the party's logic above, I hand them out to all comers regardless of their voter registration status or party affiliation and I don't do anything to track who they are?

Urban Heat Islands

For most city dwellers, the temperature increase in the summer time from the urban heat island effect (UHIE) dwarfs any temperature increase from global warming.  UHIE is the result of high population density, with lots of cars and equipment that generate heat and buildings and roads that seem to hold it in.  Many cities are several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.  The effect is so dramatic that correcting for this effect is a big part of the uncertainty in answering seemingly simple questions like "how much has the earth warmed in the last 100 years?"

Apparently, UHIE is a big problem in one of the world's densest cities, Tokyo.

The gleaming high rise buildings that crowd the
cityscape may symbolize Japan's economic recovery but they have also
converted this priciest of human habitats into vast heat-trapping
canyons in what is known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

Heat churned out by air-conditioners, automobiles and human activity
finds no escape, causing ambient temperatures, especially in the summer
months, to rise by several degrees and forcing authorities to
constantly look for newer ways to cool down a city on the boil....

A report released by the Tokyo Metropolitan government this
year shows that average temperature rise in the capital over the course
of the 20th century has been 3 degrees C....

Yamaguchi also told IPS that the number of days recording temperatures
of over 35 degrees C has gone up to more than 35 days a year,
concentrated around the three summer months between July and September.
That contrasts with the 14 days recorded in 1975....

Tellingly, most of the deaths from the European heat wave several years
ago where in cities, which tells me that UHIE had a contributing role
more than global warming.  This is actually something we argue about
from time to time in Phoenix.  Ocasionally the city considers
steps to lower our albedo, such as requiring white (rather than black)
roofs and looking at alternatives to dark asphalt for roads.

This has never been a big environmentalist issue.  My guess is that
this is because environmentalists, at least in the US, have adopted a
goal of increasing urban concentration and population densities
.  I
suppose it might be embarassing for them to admit the warming they are
trying to get city dwellers to blame on CO2 may in fact be largely due
to the environmentalists own urban planning approaches.

Free Speech, But Only If Its Bilateral

I sense I am in the minority on this (what's new) but I just don't understand the outrage directed at the decision to let Muhammad Khatemi into the US for some speaking engagements.  I guess I am enjoying the spectacle, though, of conservatives attacking McCain-Feingold for limiting free speech and then attacking the state department for letting a former head of state (albeit a fairly crazy one) into the country to, uh, speak.

The letter says that allowing
Mr. Khatemi to visit America "undermines U.S. national security
interests with respect to Iran and the broader Middle East." It also
says permitting Mr. Khatemi's "unrestricted travel through the United
States runs contrary to U.S. priorities regarding homeland security."

Taking the first part of this objection, I suppose they are arguing that granting this person a visa is somehow a reward, and we don't want to reward Iran.  Now, I will confess that Iran sucks, but I don't get how this rewards them or sets back our cause.  Yes, if he was received in the White House or by a prominent government official, I can understand it, and I would oppose doing so.  Besides, when our former head of state Jimmy Carter goes to other countries, the trips always seem to have the opposite effect that people fear here, as he tends to hurt rather than somehow advance his home country's interests every time.

As to the second part, I could understand it if someone had a legitimate concern that this was a terrorist leader and he would be spending his time visiting and organizing terrorist cells, but I have not seen anyone make that claim.  Besides, if I was in the FBI, I would love it if he was here to do that, and would follow him all over the place.  The CIA and FBI often leave known agents in place, because it is much easier to stay on top of the person you know about than the person you don't.  A high profile visit by Khatemi should be the least of our security concerns.

This just strikes me as one of those silly political loyalty tests that Democrats seem to like to conduct on domestic policy and Republicans conduct on foreign policy.  If you let this guy in, you are branded as a supporter of terrorism and fascism and whatever else. 

As I said just two days ago:

I am constantly irritated by efforts to ban a certain speaker from
speaking or to drown out their message with taunts and chanting.  If
you think someone is advocating something so terrible - let him talk.
If you are right in your judgment, their speech will likely rally
people to your side in opposition.  As I like to tell students who want
to ban speakers from campus -- Hitler told everyone exactly what he was
going to do if people had bothered to pay attention.

By the way, in explanation of the title of this post, I was reacting to something quoted from Rick Santorum.  Now, I often hesitate to react to comments by Santorum, because, like Howard Dean and a few others, he is sort of a human walking straw man.  But here goes:

On it, Mr. Santorum, who
has cut his deficit against his Senate challenger in Pennsylvania to
single digits, wrote that he should be granted a visa only if Iran
allows their people to hear "free American voices."

Mr. Santorum wrote: "We should insist, at a minimum, that the
Iranian people can hear free American voices. Iran is frightened of
freedom. They are jamming our radio and television broadcasts and
tearing down television satellite dishes in all the major cities of the
country. It seems only fair that we be able to speak to the Iranians
suffering under a regime of which Muhammad Khatemi is an integral part."

So now are we going to allow people free speech only if their country does so in a bilateral manner?  All you Americans of North Korean, Chinese, Iranian, Saudi Arabian, Venezuelan, etc. decent, Beware!   This logic betrays a theory of government that rights don't extend from the fact of our existence, but are concessions granted by the government.  By this logic, people have free speech only as long as the government allows it, and the government has the right to trade away an individual's free speech as a part of a negotiation.