Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, September 28, 2009

exelon severs ties with chamber of commerce

Exelon, the United States' largest public utility, has announced that it will sever ties with United States Chamber of Commerce because of the Chamber's opposition to climate change legislation.

Last year Exelon launched its Exelon 2020 strategy to reduce its carbon footprint by 15 million metric tons by the year 2020.

Exelon CEO John Rowe explained in a speech at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) that a cap-and-trade system is the most efficient way to transform the world's energy supply:

The carbon-based free lunch is over. But while we can’t fix our climate problems for free, the price signal sent through a cap-and-trade system will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible. Putting a price on carbon is essential, because it will force us to do the cheapest things, like energy efficiency, first.

Exelon joins California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM in severing ties with the Chamber of Commerce.

As more energy companies get on board with cap and trade, deniers like the Chamber of Commerce will be increasingly isolated. The United States just might join the rest of the world in tackling climate change before it's too late.

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should believers criticize biblical texts?

According to John Hobbins, we must:

It’s not just biblical texts that believers must complain about. It is God himself. Biblical literature is clear on this point: it is connatural to a believer to criticize God. That’s what Moses and the prophets do. That’s what David and his fellow psalmists do. That’s what Job does. That’s what Jesus does from the cross, in the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is right and good and a joyful thing to complain and criticize whenever there is a gap between the truth we associate with God and the facts on the ground.

The "facts on the ground" are just as much a part of our experience of God as the words we read in Scripture.

It is also possible for a believer to reject a part of scripture definitively, and still remain a believer. As I remember it – I heard it from Käsemann himself – the great NT exegete Ernst Käsemann once stood up in an official context of his church and argued with great passion on behalf of removing Romans 13 from Scripture. Of course Romans 13 remains a part of Scripture, but no one criticized Käsemann for his speech.

Who would? Everyone knew he had lost his beloved daughter in Argentina in the dark days in which a military junta tortured and “disappeared” their political opponents. Including Käsemann’s daughter.

Put yourself in the professor’s shoes. Walk in his boots. Now read Romans 13. Because he was a believer, I submit, he railed against that text.

(Read Romans 13: NRSV | NLT | ESV | NIV)

Käsemann is not the first Christian to reject a portion of the New Testament. Martin Luther argued vehemently that the entire book of James should be removed. And, as Hobbins points out, the Bible writers even railed against God. Why should we hold ourselves to a lower standard?

Hat tip: Henry Neufeld


Sunday, September 27, 2009

a capitalist case for curbing banker pay

from Bearish News:

There are two arguments for curbing pay on Wall Street. The two sides argue bankers should not receive such huge compensation because:

  1. Socialist view: No individual should be allowed to earn such a disproportionate salary.

  2. Capitalist view: Government intervention allows banks to be so profitable, at cost to other members of society.

Bank apologists always attack the socialist (straw man) argument. Labeling something as “socialist” is a lot easier than addressing the real issues. “Fine, that’s just fine!”, they say. “But I hope you like communism, cause we’re gonna have to cap everyone’s salary – Bill Gates, A-Rod, Britney Spears, and Steve Jobs.”

Only the capitalists’ case holds water. America’s banks cannot be described as free-market enterprises by any rational person. I will outline various ways our government subsidizes bank profits, while eating their losses. I will explain why bank executives do not deserve their current level of pay, and why this view is not socialist or anti-free-market in nature, as many claim.

I can't say I fully follow the logic, but it seems to stem from the notion that banks are free to use other people's money however they see fit — without fear of repercussion. They have no disincentive to make risky gambles, since if the gamble pays off they will profit, and if the gamble doesn't pay off they will be bailed out by the FDIC. Banks are not subject to the risks associated with free-market capitalism, and therefore cannot be considered capitalist institutions. I guess.

What do you think? Is this guy on to something, or is he just blowing smoke?

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

has the world's temperature data really gone missing?

The climate change deniers are raising another stink. Global Warming ate my data, frets Andrew Orlowski in the Register. The Dog Ate Global Warming, pines Patrick J. Michaels in the National Review.

What exactly has been eaten here?

Michaels asks us to:

Imagine if there were no reliable records of global surface temperature. Raucous policy debates such as cap-and-trade would have no scientific basis, Al Gore would at this point be little more than a historical footnote, and President Obama would not be spending this U.N. session talking up a (likely unattainable) international climate deal in Copenhagen in December.

Orlowski, on the other hand, gets right to the point:

The world's source for global temperature record admits it's lost or destroyed all the original data that would allow a third party to construct a global temperature record. The destruction (or loss) of the data comes at a convenient time for the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in East Anglia - permitting it to snub FoIA requests to see the data.

On the face of it, this sounds preposterous. Could it really be true that all the world's historical temperature records from thousands of measurement sites were stored in one location only, and have suddenly been destroyed in one fell swoop?

Michaels is a little more careful; he's not making such absolute statements without some hedging:

Steel yourself for the new reality, because the data needed to verify the gloom-and-doom warming forecasts have disappeared.

Or so it seems. Apparently, they were either lost or purged from some discarded computer. Only a very few people know what really happened, and they aren’t talking much. And what little they are saying makes no sense.

What data are they talking about, and where did it go?

Much of what we know about climate change is due to the efforts of two organizations that have spent decades collecting and aggregating temperature measurements from around the world. The Climate Research Unit, headed by Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, has been collecting climate data from around the world since 1978. The Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), a division of NASA headed by James Hansen, has been gathering climate data since 1961.

Apparently the data controversy began in 2004 (per Orlowski) or 2005 (per Michaels), when one Warwick Hughes — a "free lance earth scientist" (his own description) — requested raw climate data from Phil Jones. According to Michaels:

Jones’s response to a fellow scientist attempting to replicate his work was, “We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

If the question sounds harsh, it's perhaps because Warwick Hughes has a long history of antagonism toward Phil Jones. On his website and his blog, Hughes devotes numerous pages to criticism of Jones. For example, in an Ongoing review of 1986 Jones et al papers compiling global temperature trends that now define "IPCC global warming", Hughes calls on Jones to "measure global temperature trends using data that does not include many hundreds of temperature records contaminated by local urban heat islands."

The underlying issue here is that buildings, roads, and other human-built structures trap heat during the daytime. At night, these structures release the heat back into the air. The result is nighttime temperatures that are warmer than the surrounding countryside. A true picture of global temperatures must either measure both urban and rural temperatures, or adjust the urban temperatures to account for the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

Hughes's website also includes an open letter to all authors of the Jones et al 1986 papers and DoE documentation books. In this one, Hughes objects to the inclusion of temperature data from a station in Atlanta:

Personally, I would have thought there was an abundance of evidence in the early 1980's that Atlanta was UHI affected and that evidence has compounded since with NASA web pages portraying satellite thermal imagery defining the Atlanta UHI which they characterise as Hotlanta.

Hughes includes the reply he received from Phil Jones. Dr Jones states, in part:

The Atlanta station you refer to is one of 22 sites within the grid box (30-35N, 80-85W) where Atlanta is located. So even if the data have become more urban affected through time, the effect on the grid-box average would be minor. For the 1985/1986 papers/reports you refer to all the stations were assessed for homogeneity problems.

UHI appears to be a major issue for Hughes. He seems not to be satisfied with the adjustments to the climate aggregations to account for the UHI factor. In fact, Hughes gives his game away in his "ongoing review," where he insists that CRU not adjust, but eliminate, any measurements "contaminated by local urban heat islands".

Perhaps it is the UHI issue that drove Hughes to request the raw data from Jones, or perhaps it was something else. Either way, Jones was unable to supply it.

The problem is, the raw data does not belong to Jones. What Jones and CRU have produced over the last quarter century are a series of aggregates of monthly temperatures collected from more than 3000 sites around the world. The most current dataset is known as CRUTEM3, and is available for download from the CRU website. CRU has obtained these temperature readings from a variety of sources, some of whom are happy to share their data with anyone who asks, and some of whom have strict policies concerning its reuse.

There is nothing sinister about either the agreements CRU signed to obtain the data from disparate sources, or the way CRU has built their aggregation of the measurements. And certainly CRU is being open in sharing its own data.

But the spark lit by Hughes was kindled in 2007 when statistician and mineral exploration expert Stephen McIntyre filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request for the raw source data. Jones again refused; his curt explanation for not having to supply the data was, as Orlowski's article notes:

Information accessible to applicant via other means. Some information is publicly available on external websites.

In plain English, the data does not belong to CRU, but can be obtained from the original sources. Some of it is quite easy to obtain; just go to the appropriate websites. What Jones leaves unsaid is that some of the data may be difficult to obtain from the sources. But he has gone to great lengths to gather as much data as he possibly could, and anybody else who wants to put forth the effort can obtain the same data.

Jones alludes to some of the difficulty in his later remarks, also reported in Orlowski's Register article:

We are not in a position to supply data for a particular country not covered by the example agreements referred to earlier, as we have never had sufficient resources to keep track of the exact source of each individual monthly value. Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues.

This is in no way inconsistent with his reply to the FoIA request. Again, all the data should be retrievable from the sources, and some of the sources make it quite easy to do so. Some don't, and obtaining their data could be difficult.

Michaels grouses in his National Review article that keeping the data shouldn't have been that difficult for CRU, even with the limited storage available in the 1980s.

The statement about “data storage” is balderdash. They got the records from somewhere. The files went onto a computer. All of the original data could easily fit on the 9-inch tape drives common in the mid-1980s. I had all of the world’s surface barometric pressure data on one such tape in 1979.

But Michaels misses the point. CRU, in fact, did merge the records to fit everything into the available storage. But in merging, CRU lost the distinctions among the original sources. It's not, as Michaels insinuates, that the temperature data has been lost or destroyed. CRU has processed the data and kept the results. The original data can still be obtained from the original sources.

Furthermore, Jones and CRU are not the only ones who have collected and aggregated all this data. In the United States, GISS has been keeping independent climate records since before CRU was established. GISS also makes their data available from their website, so even if CRU had destroyed their data, we would still have global temperature datasets for review. And if GISS and CRU can do it, others can build their own data collections if they are willing to put forth the effort.

The problem is, the climate change deniers don't want to do the work. They simply want to criticize and complain. Because they are too lazy to go to all the sources of temperature measurements around the world, they question whether the measurements even exist. And because organizations like the Register and the National Review give them a free platform for making allegations, they just might confuse a lot of people into thinking there is still some controversy over the reality of global warming.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

teen birth rates highest in most religious states

That's the headline for an MSNBC article that summarizes a soon-to-be-published study in the journal Reproductive Health:

U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth, a new study suggests.

The relationship could be due to the fact that communities with such religious beliefs (a literal interpretation of the Bible, for instance) may frown upon contraception, researchers say. If that same culture isn't successfully discouraging teen sex, the pregnancy and birth rates rise.

From what I've seen so far, I'd be very hesitant to draw such a conclusion. The study does find at least one positive correlation:

Mississippi topped the list for conservative religious beliefs and teen birth rates.

Study researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University offers this interpretation:

We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself.

But what does the correlation tell us, really? Does it truly indicate that religious teens are more likely to get pregnant? Or does it tell us that the same state happens to have high concentrations of both religious teens and pregnant teens?

I'm not the only one who is asking:

And while the study reveals information about states as a whole, it doesn't shed light on whether an individual teen who is more religious will also be more likely to have a child.

"You can't talk about individuals, because you don't know what's producing the [teen birth] rate," said Amy Adamczyk, a sociologist at the City University of New York, who was not involved in the current study. "Are there just a couple of really precocious religious teenagers who are running around and getting pregnant and having all of these babies, but that's not the norm?"

Adamczyk, it turns out, has also done resesarch in this area, and has found just the opposite:

"What we find is that more religious women are less likely to engage in riskier sex behaviors, and as a result they are less likely to have a premarital pregnancy," Adamczyk said during a telephone interview. But for those religious teens who do choose to have premarital sex, they might be more likely to ditch their religious views and have an abortion, she has found.

Strayhorn acknowledges that his study looks at communities, not individuals, but he still believes he has uncovered something:

"It is possible that an anti-contraception attitude could be caused by religious cultures and that could exert its effect mainly on the non-religious individuals in the culture," Strayhorn told LiveScience. But, he added, "We don't know."

John Santelli of Columbia University is not critical of the study or of Strayhorn's interpretation of the results, but notes that:

"The index of religiosity is tapping into more fundamentalist religious belief," Santelli said. "I'm sure there are parts of New England that have very low teen birth rates, which have pretty high religious participation, but they're probably less conservative, less fundamentalist type of congregations."

Indeed, the researchers defined religiosity very narrowly:

For religiosity, the researchers averaged the percentage of respondents who agreed with conservative responses to eight statements, including: "There is only one way to interpret the teachings of my religion," and "Scripture should be taken literally, word for word."

Finally, while the correlation appears to hold for some states, in others it's not so strong. Five states are in the top ten in both "religiosity" and teen pregnancies, but some states show a wide gap between the two categories. New Mexico is second only to Mississippi in teen pregnancies, but ranks 22nd in "religiosity". Utah is sixth in "religiosity", but only 34th in teen pregnancies.

I'd be hesitant about drawing any strong conclusions from this study, but a possible correlation between religious beliefs and teen pregnancy rates is worth a closer look.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

crab canon on a möbius strip


Hat tip: John D. Cook

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

barack obama's liberal speech to school children

Hi! Flush Flimflaw here, and I am just outraged by Barack "Osama" Hussein Obama's speech to school kids last week. And I'm even more outraged that the liberal media is not outraged by it.

Obama said, and I quote, "I’m glad you all could join us today."

Can you believe that? It's outrageous! What a bunch of liberal hooey. "I'm glad you all could join us today."

Now I want to explain to you what liberals mean when they say that. Because when an ordinary person says, "I'm glad you all could join us today," it's just a greeting. But when a liberal says it, it's just outrageous what the liberal media lets him get away with.

You see, what he's telling the kids is that gay marriage is OK. When a liberal says "all" he means that same-sex couples should have "all" the same benefits as normal people. That's what the word "all" means there. Obama is indoctrinating our school children right in front of our eyes.

And he does it with such plain-sounding language, that most people won't even realize what he's really saying. But the kids will know. "I'm glad you all could join us today."

The next thing you're going to see, when the kids go to recess, boys will be playing with other boys, and girls with other girls. It's just not natural. And the liberal media won't say a word.

Obama also said this: "And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous." Can you believe that!? "It's understandable if you're a little nervous."

Let me tell you, Barack "Osama" Hussein Obama: I'll tell you what makes me nervous. I get nervous every year around April 15. You see, folks, what Obama is doing is telling kids that they should learn to love paying taxes. "It's understandable if you're a little nervous." It's not understandable, Mr. President. It's outrageous! And the liberal media lets him get away with it!

You don't think he means it? Listen to this. Here's what he also said in this speech, that he claims was a non-partisan speech: "I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year." You see? He wants to talk about what the government expects of all the little comrades this year. Can you believe it? The next thing you know, he'll be talking about responsibility!

You don't believe me? Just listen to what he said next. This part is a little long, so I'm going to put it in one of these boxes here:

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

Now do you believe me? He said it, it's right there in his own words. He's telling the children that their teachers are government toadys, their parents are government shills, and the government is omni-benevolent. "Setting high standards," he says, and he expects everyone to just fall in line. And see, the government is also "turning around schools that aren't working…" He said it right there. That's an exact quote! "Schools that aren't working." Of course, when a liberal talks about schools working, he means working to indoctrinate children into being nervous so they'll fall in line and pay their taxes when they grow up and marry someone of the same sex. I'm not making this up. He said it, not me! Read the speech, see for yourself.

And here's why he wants their tax money: so he can give them the "opportunities they deserve." Can you believe what the liberal media lets this man get away with? "Opportunities they deserve." That is just outright communism, folks. Opportunities, indeed.

Next we come to the most chilling part of the whole speech.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities.

Can you believe it!? This man is telling children they have to be responsible too. That's outrageous! And the liberal media just lets him get away with it.

Now when liberals talk about responsibility, watch out. Better hold on to your wallet, because when a liberal talks about responsibility, he means taxes. You don't believe me? Just look back through his speech and see how many times he's mentioned taxes already: "It's understandable if you're a little nervous…setting high standards…" He can't open his mouth without saying the word taxes.

I'm telling you, what Obama is saying here is that the death tax is coming back with a vengeance. Rich kids won't be able to live off their inheritance anymore, that's what this is all about. They are going to have to do well in school and get a good job. It's outrageous! Class warfare, that's what "responsibility" means. Telling kids to be responsible is just another anti-American plot from the liberals.

You don't believe me? Just listen to what Obama said about it. These are his own words, from later in the same speech: "You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job." Outrageous! He actually said that to school children. And do you think the liberal media called him out on it? No!

I tell you, if we let him get away with this, it's only a matter of time before he starts telling kids, "Don't smoke, don't take drugs." We'll have a whole generation of Americans who won't know the pleasures of Cuban cigars and OxyContin. Folks, we can't afford to let the liberals do that to this country!

So let's review: "I'm glad you all could join us today…it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous…setting high standards…fulfill your responsibilities…opportunities they deserve." The five pillars of liberalism, just like the five pillars of Islam. And the liberal media still won't admit he's a closet Muslim.

Folks, the good old U.S. of A. is in a dire situation here. I mean, it is dire. We can't just roll over and let the liberals keep ramming these doctrines down our children's throats. We must take a stand against the five liberal pillars of welcoming, understanding, high standards, responsibility, and opportunity. I can only imagine what kind of nation we might have if our children learn these liberal values.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

are you certain?

I knew, as soon as I saw her standing there with a handful of tracts, what her intentions were. But when I didn't break eye contact soon enough, she started the conversation.

She: Do you have a few moments to take a survey?

Me: I guess so. [thinking: I know this whole script. There was a time in my life when I was the one handing out tracts. It shouldn't take long.]

She: Great! Do you live around here?

Me: Yeah. [I'm going to keep close. I don't feel like getting into a theological fight today.]

She: Do you have a church that you attend?

Me: Yeah.

She: Oh really? Which one?

Me: Grace United Methodist.

She: Oh. Well, I go to We're More Christian Church [or something like that], and I'd like to invite you to join us if you're ever interested in visiting.

[She hands me the tract.]

She: And one more question…If you died today, are you certain of where you'd spend eternity?

[I pause, thinking: I wouldn't word it exactly that way, but I really don't want to get into an argument over semantics like I did the last time.]

Me: Yes.

She, after seeing that I'm not going to elaborate without further prompting: And where is that?

Me: Heaven.

She: And if God asked you, "Why should I let you into heaven? What have you done to deserve it?" How would you answer?

Me: God's not going to ask me that. Ultimately it's God's decision, not mine. [Oh no, I am going to get into a theological argument after all.]

She, opening one of the tracts: Well, if you'll say this prayer with me, you can be sure of getting into heaven. Just repeat after me, "Heavenly Father…" [pause] "Heavenly Father…"

Me: Yeah, I've said one of those before. [That'll throw her off her script!]

She: But I thought you said you weren't sure? Didn't you just say it's not your decision? But if you've said this prayer, you can be sure. So next time someone asks, say you're certain. Don't let the devil tell you you're not.

Me: Yeah, OK. Bye. [Whew, that was close.]

Here's my problem with her type of theology: It turns prayer into a magical incantation, and God into a genie who must do our bidding if we get the words right. We earn our way into heaven by casting a spell that forces God to overlook our sinfulness.

That's why I had to tell her it's God's decision, not ours. I'm not denying that we do make decisions to follow the will of God. In fact, as a good Methodist I believe we must in some way respond to God's call on our lives if we want to claim to be followers of Christ.

But ultimately, it's up to God. We don't get into heaven by our own merits, and we can't recite a magical formula to force God to turn a blind eye to our shortcomings. If we can't absolutely know the mind of God, we can't be absolutely certain that we've got a free pass.

On the other hand, if we know God and have a strong relationship, we've got something even better: trust. We can trust God to make the right decision, because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. What could a magical incantation give us that could possibly compare to that?

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

pulling the trigger on the public option

Robert Reich has some concerns about Senator Olympia Snowe's 'trigger' health care proposal:

Her idea (evidently encouraged by Rahm Emanuel, the President's chief of staff) is to hold off on any public option. Give the private insurance companies a period of time -- say, five years -- within which to make changes that extend coverage to more people and also drive down long-term costs. If those goals for coverage and cost aren't met by end of the five-year grace period, kaboom: the public option is triggered -- which will force such changes on the insurance companies.

In principle it sounds like a good idea. But in the reality of Washington D.C. …

The problem is twofold. First, it's impossible to design airtight goals for coverage and cost reductions that won't be picked over by five thousand lobbyists and as many lawyers and litigators even if, at the end of the grace period, it's apparent to everyone else that the goals aren't met. Washington is a vast cesspool of well-paid specialists who know how to stop anything resembling a "trigger." Believe me, they will.

Second, any controversial proposal with some powerful support behind it that gets delayed -- for five years or three years or whenever -- is politically dead.

President Obama has remained noncommittal about what the health care reform legislation should look like by the time it reaches his desk. But if Reich is right, Obama's refusal to take sides puts him firmly in the camp opposing the public option. If Obama really cares about the public option, he needs to speak up now. And if he doesn't, he should say it and be done. Health care reform is too critical an issue, and the President is too critical a player to sit on the sidelines.

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