Wednesday, October 3, 2012


You know what?  I suppose a guy could be convicted of being a "sex offender", yet not actually be the kind of monster this term invokes.  For instance, its remotely possible - I guess - that a guy could indulge in a little hanky pank with a 17 year old girl who just lied about her age.  Hold that thought...

Simi Valley California has an ordinance in effect this Halloween which requires, in essence, that registered sex offenders are not allowed to participate in the traditional tricking and treating.  Now I don't know about you, but this Halloween I'm going to max out my VISA to buy a truckload of candy, then leave my front door light on so all the little neighborhood urchins can drop by and fill their sacks with goodies at my expense.  Hoo Rah!

I can do this because A, I'm not a registered sex offender, and B, I don't live in Simi Valley.  If I was and did, I'd be required, by law, to leave my light off - plus post a sign on my front door that says (in one inch letters): "No candy or treats at this residence".

Apparently, this doesn't sit right with at least five of Simi Valley's 119 registered sex offenders, who are suing the city on the grounds that the ordinance violates their first amendment rights.

Janice Bellucci, the lawyer representing these deviates, er, citizens, is shocked and outraged.  She says:

"It's similar to Jews in Nazi Germany who had to wear the yellow star on their clothing."


Steve, I'm perfectly willing to go through the tortuous, disagreeable logic of Ms Bellucci's argument.  But I'm afraid I have to draw the line at comparing a practicing, innocent Jew to a registered sex offender.

Getting back to my opening comment though, I doubt, extremely, that these offenders are all the victims of some misunderstanding.  They are what you and I used to call child molesters.

You know, if any of these miscreants had molested any of MY children, I doubt if some jib jab about their "rights" this Halloween would suit me.  In fact, I would have already beaten the holy crap out of them by now.  I mean it.

We live in a country which places a rather high premium on the protection of individual rights.  To achieve this goal, sometimes, we have to put up with all manner odious, repulsive acts - if only to preserve individual freedoms.  This case isn't one of them.  Boo-Yah for Simi Valley - and may Ms Bellucci and the perverts she represents all go suck an egg.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sometimes The Dog Won't Eat The Dog Food


First rule in sales:

No matter how good a product you have, its worthless if people won't buy it.

I should know. I sold crap used cars for years, while better ones rotted away on the back of the lot. And I was pretty shameless about it too. Whenever a customer "landed" on a particular car, suddenly, as if by magic, that car became the best value in our inventory. Even if, as was most often the case, it was an over priced, gas guzzling bucket of bolts.

It strikes me that this same principle is the guiding force in politics. Maybe a long time ago, in a universe far, far away, people just gritted their teeth and voted for the sharpest, most intelligent and experienced candidate they could lay their hands on - knowing full well that said candidate wouldn't always agree with every single one of their opinions.

My how times have changed. All I can say now Steve, is that its a good thing you don't get to be an auto mechanic or a surgeon by the same process we use to chose politicians. My gosh, we just don't build junkyards and morgues large enough to handle the increased production.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Does Justice Have a Price Tag?


I read an interesting article in the New York Times this morning: "The Bill of Rights Doesn’t Come Cheap".

Briefly, a case ( Williams v. Illinois) before the Supreme Court involves exactly how far a defendant's right to confront his or her accuser(s) extends. At issue is whether or not a defendant's counsel can call a forensic analyst to testify under the broad interpretation of accuser. The author comes down on the side of a broad interpretation.

As I began reading this I instinctively assumed the opposite side would argue that a presumably neutral technician who submits forensic analyses should not be classified as an "accuser" according to a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution. But such is not the case. The State of Illinois is arguing instead that the sheer cost of bringing more or less peripheral, technically defined accusers to court for cross examination would be prohibitive. According to the article:

"...the Supreme Court has been sharply divided on the issue. In similar cases in 2009 and earlier this year, in which I represented the defendants, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. accepted claims by state governments that, simply put, confrontation in this context costs too much. It is far more efficient, these justices contend, to let analysts simply mail their reports to court. Having to appear at trials pulls them away from their labs, and only occasionally proves more revealing than their written testimony. Hence, these justices maintain, “scarce state resources” are better committed elsewhere."

Now at first blush, one would think that abrogating an important constitutional guarantee on the basis of cost alone to be an incredibly bad idea - and the fact that four justices seem inclined to agree with it is not only mystifying, but also very disturbing. What's more, you can't view the court's divide on this issue as a difference between traditional conservative and liberal ideologies. Frankly, whenever you see Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito on the same side, you have to wonder if there's more to his animal than meets the eye.

You can find the summary of Williams v Illinois before the SCOTUS here. Skimming through the summary, you get the distinct impression that the defendant, Sandy Williams, is guilty as heck and only raised the confrontation issue as a way of trying to wiggle off the hook. From the summary:

“Overall, defendant essentially requests that we require each and every individual involved in the testing and analysis of DNA to testify at trial. For obvious reasons in the abstract and for those provided in the case at bar, we decline to issue such a ruling.”

Mr. Williams' guilt or innocence however is beside the point. You don't go around ignoring the Constitution just to convict one, clearly guilty person. But still, it seems to me this case, others like it, as well as the related issue of tort reform, raise troubling questions about the execution of justice. To wit: is it fair for a society to set limits on the amount of money it is willing to spend in pursuit of justice? After all, in every phase of law, and indeed of government itself, there is only so much money to go around. We're living in a dream world if we deny it.

Now I don't think I should have to prove by statistical evidence how sensitive our justice system is to money. People with enough money to pay for the best attorneys stand a much better chance of escaping conviction than poor people who are stuck with far less effective, court appointed lawyers. Moreover, every year, trials seem to get more and more expensive. It cost Los Angeles County 9 million dollars to prosecute O.J.!

Personally, I believe the more money we spend on determining guilt or innocence, the more likely we are to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Similarly, where "tort reform" is concerned, the more we allow for damages, the less likely businesses will be to abuse the system. However, even I have to admit that the sheer cost of obtaining true justice must certainly have some kind of limits. How much? In what cases, and under what circumstances? Good questions, these.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Honestly, and with as little partisan rancor as I can manage, I'll have to admit the Republican field of presidential hopefuls this year is as sorry a lot as I've ever seen from any party in my admittedly short lifetime. Though an affable and fairly intelligent man, Michael Dukakis was something of an embarrassment - and the same goes for Walter Mondale. Yet neither of these two Democrats even came close to rivaling the current crop of GOP front runners in terms of ineptitude and hypocrisy. I weep for the poor party-line conservative, who come what may is going to have to pull the lever next November for a buffoon. To be sure, such is the intensity of the Tea Party's irrational hatred of Barak Obama that they would vote Republican if their candidate was a sock puppet.

However, since a sock puppet would surely be an improvement on the likely GOP nominee, I doubt if many in the traditional moderate center of the entire electorate will do the same. Under the circumstances, Obama could erect minarets around the White House and conduct daily Muslim prayer services - and still not lose the election.

How did we get to this point? Here the story of Richard Lugar, longtime Senator from my home state of Indiana, is instructive:

First elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1967 (my junior year in high school), Dick Lugar's subsequent career in politics has been a textbook example of the kind of successes a smart, principled man can accomplish. He lost his first try at the U.S. Senate to the veteran Democrat, Vance Hartke, in 1974, but won on his second try in 1976, and has been a U.S. Senator ever since. In the 2006 election, he captured an amazing 87% of all votes cast and Democrats didn't even bother to field a candidate against him. Along the way he's amassed a pile of awards from both conservative and liberal leaning groups. Humble in victory and gracious in defeat, universally admired by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, his record in office has not ever been tarnished by a single act of hypocrisy. A lifetime Methodist and married to the same woman for over 50 years, Mr. Luger has raised 4 fine sons and can proudly claim 13 grandchildren.

Steve, if you didn't know first hand it was true, you would be inclined to believe the Wikipedia article on Dick Lugar to be some kind of fictional account of the Perfect Senator. And by the way, despite the fact that I disagree in principle with many of this man's conservative viewpoints, I've voted for him myself every time I've had the chance. My gosh, the guy even helped establish "The Richard Lugar Center for Renewable Energy", an improbable extension of Indiana and Purdue Universities, which includes funding and participation from academia, the alternative energy industry, and (amazingly) some of the biggest Indiana users of fossil fuels (Like Duke energy for instance.).

For the sake of conservatives, indeed, for the cause of conservatism itself, if would be nice if the Dick Lugar story was headed for a happy ending. But alas, such is not the case - and here's where the story gets weird. Organized under the banner, "Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate", Indiana Tea Parties have united in strong opposition to Richard Lugar's candidacy and are backing a comparative unknown, one Richard Mourdock - the current Indiana State Treasurer. For heaven's sake, why?

I'll tell you why. Richard Lugar is the kind of man who is capable of changing his mind but not his principles. This is also a man who knows the importance of tact, strategy and compromise. In negotiations, someone like Mr. Lugar will always come away with most of the loaf, where the typical blind ideologue will come away with none at all. However, Indiana Tea Partiers don't want an intelligent human being to represent the state, just a glorified sock puppet.

Now I'm not saying voters have no right to organize and promote whoever they feel best represents them. In most ways, that's what politics is all about. But I honestly think that as a nation we're headed down a disastrous road when we start sending empty suits to Washington. To me, this voids the whole idea of representative democracy. Government, it seems to me, works best when communities elect their best and brightest to lead them - and have faith that the difficult decisions those people make are the right ones in the long run.

Now don't worry, I doubt if Dick Lugar is going to lose this round. Hoosiers, even the Republican ones, aren't that stupid. But unfortunately, the same dynamic which is going to keep Mr. Lugar in office isn't going to work on the national level - and especially in the race for Presidency. Here's why:

The Tea Party constitutes only a fraction of the Republican base, and a relatively small one at that. But they are by far the best organized and financed faction. Thus, while it may be true a Republican can win the Presidency without the strong support of the Tea Party, it is increasingly obvious that you cannot win the party's nomination without it. And, just as in Indiana, the Tea Party demands ideological purity. In fact, you get the impression intelligence and overall competence are pretty much of secondary importance, if that. Let one of the candidates publicly disagree some extreme point of social or scientific dogma, and there goes his or her chances. In short, the Tea Party isn't interested in electing anyone who thinks for themselves.

On the local level, this counter-productive insistence on rigid, ideological purity can be overcome by a man with the credentials of a Richard Lugar. But on the national level, the Republican Party just plain doesn't as yet have a candidate of such overwhelming accomplishment and character that he or she can overcome the money and influence of the Tea Party. Someone like Chris Christie might have had a shot. But you know, as soon as it came out in the debates that Chris Christie endorsed the consensus view on climate change, you might just as well have written him off. The Tea Party doesn't believe in climate change and won't back a person who does. That's just for starters.

What it boils down to is the sane, rational, principled, potential Republican candidates (and there are many) are sitting this one out. Which leaves us with a truly odd collection of damaged goods. The only person in the whole bunch with a glimmer of intelligence, John Huntsman, consistently runs dead last in the polls. The consistent front runner is Mitt Romney: a man with such little regard for his own convictions that he's willing to change them at the drop of a hat. Each week it seems one or another of the others bubbles to the surface to claim the lead. This week it is the tireless retread, Newt Gingrich. Last month it was Herman Cain. Before that, Rick Perry was the flavor of the month.

Mitt Romney will continue to poll at or near the top because, week in and week out, he continues to garner support of whatever is left of the moderate faction of the GOP - and this is only by default: these people just have nowhere else to go. The real action has been on the fringe. Yet so far every time one of them has made a run at Romney, sooner or later, they've said something which enrages the Tea Party and whoops, there goes the egg money.

In closing, let me say I'm not all that bothered by whatever special interests (read: cynical, self serving, private groups) are working behind the scenes. After all, special interests have always been the name of the game and Democrats can claim no independence from them. What really bothers me is that the GOP seems to have been high jacked by the politics of rage: a naive, simplistic, media driven rage that spends all of its time apportioning blame and none of its time looking for solutions. It is a rage utterly resistant to facts or evidence. Conservative writer David Frum (who I've often quoted before) has a fairly thoughtful article on this very phenomenon: "When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?".

Then again, maybe as a people we've become just too darn lazy to think for ourselves.

Bon appetit!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stage II


You may recall some time ago I posted the 4 stages of climate change denial. To repeat:

1. Global warming isn't happening.

2. Global warming is happening but humans aren't responsible for it.

3. Global warming is happening, humans are largely responsible for it, but there isn't anything we can do about it.

4. Global warming is happening, humans are largely responsible for it, there is something we can do about, but the costs of mitigation would exceed the costs of warming.

Now it looks like with the pending peer review and subsequent publishing of Robert Muller's BEST study, denialistas will be breaking camp and moving on to stage 2. Back in April of this year I posted an article and comment on Dr. Muller's testimony before Representative Robert Hall's (R-Tx) congressional kangaroo court on climate science: a forum designed from the start to cast doubt on the science behind the theory of AGW. Dr. Muller had been called to testify simply because he had been recognized for years as a skeptic. But, low and behold, after honestly reviewing the data, Dr. Muller in sworn testimony, confirmed the existence of global warming - not only that, but the credibility of the "hockey stick". Thus, his testimony posed an embarrassment - not only for Robert Hall, but the denialist community at large - which immediately ramped up and started trying to discredit the BEST methodology.

During that episode I was most amused by the idiotic dilettante, Tony Watts. Prior to release of Dr. Muller's findings, Mr. Watts had more or less promised on his blog to abide by whatever the BEST team concluded. Yet, as soon as it became obvious the findings conflicted with his own personal dogma, he instantly back tracked and fell in with the chorus of BEST critics.

I failed to mention in that earlier post why the Watts reversal has been so exquisitely ironic. It was Mr. Watts himself who virtually pioneered the organized criticism of surface temperature records - and the computer models which are based on them. The effort culminated in the "paper", "Surface Temperature Records: Policy Driven Deception?" - - the original copy of which was as goofy a piece of flat Earth flim flam as any which has come down the pike in years. As it originally appeared, it was little more than a paste up of unsorted calumnies from a host of dubious sources. In the intervening months, Mr. Watts has painstakingly removed the most comical errors - but the paper just keeps getting flimmier and flammier. Now comes the BEST study, a thorough, well financed project which honestly pursues the objectives which Mr. Watts has been dishonestly pursuing for years. And not surprisingly, the results directly contradict the saucer of weak tea Tony Watts has been trying to pass off as genuine research.

Probably the most damning aspect of the BEST study, for Tony Watts at least, is the devastating take-down of his most cherished conspiracy theory. Namely, that the American NOAA and NASA, along with the British Hadley Centre, are purposely conspiring to drop from their data bases the temperature recording sites which give "colder" readings, while retaining sites which give "warmer" readings. You yourself made note of this in a post of your's last year. As originally conceived, the whole theory was based on Mr. Watts' total ignorance of temperature anomalies. Climate change predictions are based on anomalies at each site, as opposed to Mr. Watts' naive assumption that the readings from all sites are merely averaged: a preposterous method in which "throwing out" colder readings would have some effect.

One of the things the BEST study did was "add back" the readings from all the stations which the NOAA had dropped from the system to see if their inclusion would make any difference in the historical record.

It didn't.

As a matter of fact, the record is almost identical to that which is currently computed without the dropped stations. This should come as no surprise. For some time now, the NOAA has been trying to explain the station selection process to anyone who cares to listen. Furthermore, since all the data is freely available from the NOAA, the BEST review which incorporates dropped stations had already been performed earlier by at least one blogger - with the same results. I need hardly add that Anthony Watts himself, if he is indeed the meticulous researcher he claims to be, could have performed this same exercise with any ordinary home computer before making his profoundly dishonest accusations.

Here's the whole point of this post, Steve:

With the publication of the BEST study, the very existence of global warming is no longer in doubt. Yet, having lost their credibility as climate experts, are we supposed to believe the same pseudo-scientists who spread lies and disinformation, and promoted childish conspiracy theories about the temperature record, will now suddenly morph into experts in chemistry, oceanography, geology and physics, and then explain to us why evidence from these fields as well do not prove global warming is the product of human activity?

Steve, there isn't any conspiracy to alter the historical temperature record! There never was. Yet, now that this particular conspiracy theory has gone up in smoke, we're going to be asked to believe that scientists in fields as diverse as atmospheric chemistry and hydrology are conspiring, in an ever widening circle, to game the system and create false evidence for anthropocentric global warming. And what's more, were going to be asked to believe this by the same people who lied to us about the record of global temperature.

Pfaah! Isn't it about time we start paying attention to what real scientists are telling us about climate change? A whole bunch of them spent countless hours without remuneration to prepare AR-4, the IPCC's seminal report on climate change. Why not take a moment to visit the IPCC website, where you can review the IPCC's reports and credentials of the team members who write them. The whole process is fully transparent and backed by tons of online documentation.



Friday, October 7, 2011


By sheer coincidence I happened across a June 11th (2011) article by one Richard Glover in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Harold, "The Dangers of Bone Headed Beliefs", in which the author pokes fun of climate change denialists, mainly, but also of "green zealots", who treat the science of global warming as a sort of religion. You may not like the humor - it has the typical hard edges of British humor which some here in the Colonies find objectionable.

As it happens, the article didn't create much of a stir when it first appeared in print. However, someone posted a link to it at an American conservative website, where upon it went viral and spawned a ration of hate mail from conservative lunatics, as reported by Mr. Glover in a later article. But that's beside the point. I've no doubt liberal lunatics are as proficient at writing hate mail as conservatives are.

What caught my eye in the article was the following:

"Is it possible to get the politics out of the climate-change debate? The first step might be to acknowledge the way ideology informs attitudes to climate change on both sides.

People on the left instinctively believe in communal action, the role of government and the efficacy of international agencies such as the UN. They were always going to believe in climate change; it's the sort of problem that can best be solved using the tools they most enjoy using.

The right tended to be sceptical about climate change from the start and for exactly the same reasons. It's the sort of problem that requires global, communal action, with governments setting rules. It is a problem that requires tools they instinctively dislike using."

What I found surprising was how compactly the author was able to reduce the public's ideological divide over the science of climate change to such profoundly simple terms. Not only that, but this account makes total sense to me.

Now it is true I firmly believe in the fundamental correctness of the science which establishes global warming as an anthropocentric phenomenon. Furthermore, I've spent no little time considering the views of many in prominence who deny it - and found the criticisms to be unsupported by facts, if not downright fraudulent.

However, before I come to a review of the science, as a liberal, I have one less hurdle to get over than my conservative counterpart. I know going in that if global warming constitutes a valid threat, the solution may require some expansion of national, as well as international government. And frankly, that prospect doesn't bother me. As a liberal, I should say I'm as terrified of repressive government as you are. But, perhaps unlike you, I believe in the perfectibility of government.

This is what makes it so hard for liberals and conservatives to work together on effective solutions. To put it another way, I suppose a conservative might believe that even if the consensus view on climate change is correct, might it be that the loss of individual liberties embodied by a solution are worse than the effects of climate change in any case?

You know, I think this is a meaningful question, and possibly worth at least as much consideration as the details of the science itself. Famously, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - a true conservative - has stated his unequivocal trust in the consensus view on climate change. Yet, he is also on record as opposing the strategies currently favored by the left. Frum Forum has a rather nice article on his position.

Now it seems to me the whole issue of climate change could be viewed as only a part of a much larger dialogue - one in which the aims of both conservatives and liberals dovetail. Frankly, a rational, integrated, national energy policy which has the objective of supplanting fossil fuels with renewables, need not require as its prime goal the reduction of carbon emissions.

Consider Charles Krauthammer: as ardent a conservative, liberal bashing, climate change denier as ever walked the Earth. Yet, a lack of faith in the science behind global warming doesn't prevent him from writing articles like this. From the article:

"For 25 years and with utter futility (starting with "The Oil-Bust Panic," the New Republic, February 1983), I have been advocating the cure: a U.S. energy tax as a way to curtail consumption and keep the money at home. On this page in May 2004 (and again in November 2005), I called for "the government -- through a tax -- to establish a new floor for gasoline," by fully taxing any drop in price below a certain benchmark. The point was to suppress demand and to keep the savings (from any subsequent world price drop) at home in the U.S. Treasury rather than going abroad. At the time, oil was $41 a barrel. It is now $123."


"Want to wean us off oil? Be open and honest. The British are paying $8 a gallon for petrol. Goldman Sachs is predicting we will be paying $6 by next year. Why have the extra $2 (above the current $4) go abroad? Have it go to the U.S. Treasury as a gasoline tax and be recycled back into lower payroll taxes."

Let's parse this. What Charles Krauthammer is advocating, plainly, is a targeted tax on fossil fuels. What he does not advocate, characteristically, is using this tax to subsidize the production of energy with renewables. Instead, he would use this revenue to reduce payroll taxes - and allow free market mechanics to make renewables a more attractive investment.

Now there, in my estimation, is a solution we should all be able to agree on - liberals and conservatives alike. A: Tax a diminishing resource (oil), the supply of which we depend on from unstable and unpredictable foreign sources. B: Return the tax to the U.S. consumer by way of a "revenue neutral" income tax deduction. C: Allow the market to find and develop alternative energy sources without government interference.

Everybody wins: liberal tree huggers and drill baby drill neocons alike. And nobody has to fight over climatology. What do you think?



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let's get Ready To Ruuuuuuumble!


While others only talk about making home made salsa, Chef Christophe acts.  Herewith, for those courageous enough to follow the trail he blazed:

Chef Christophe's Mystery Death Salsa


6 large, fresh tomatoes
1 medium onion
2 large jalapeno peppers
2 serrano peppers
2 Charleston slim peppers
2 cayenne peppers
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 tsp cumin - 1 tsp adobo - 1 tsp cilantro

Remove stems from tomatoes, then dunk in boiling water for 1 minute and peel off skin.  Finely chop tomatoes, peppers and onions.  Put them in a crock pot along with the spices and tomato paste and cook at low heat for 6 hours.

For a distinctive flavor, you can also add a couple of tablespoons of brown or white sugar.

This salsa won't exactly terminate your taste buds with extreme prejudice, but it will make any taco or tostada wake up and take notice.  For a kick-in-the-pants, slap-yo-mama, near death experience, puree one large ghost pepper and toss it in.  But just be darn sure you wear rubber gloves (seriously) if you do that.  Oh, and throw away the blender afterwards.

-Chef Christophe