Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It Would Be Quicker To Make A List Of Things "Global Warming" Isn't Causing

A few years ago I stumbled across a hilarious link that itself was simply a page of hyperlinks, each of which in turn linked to a news report or other source claiming that global warming was having this or that effect.

It's hilarious because several of the links had mirrors; for example, one link led to a story that claimed global warming was causing forests to grow out of control, while another claimed it was causing forests to shrink worldwide.

I'm delighted to report that I came across the link again today and that the author has been maintaining it, including preserving links that have suffered from link-rot.

It's a great link that really displays marvellously the malleability of the global warming movement to include every malady affecting mankind and attach it to their religion.

And for the record, I still call it global warming because, even though great pains have been taken to re-brand the movement as being concerned with climate change, I will note the following:

There has never been a period in history in which the planet both (a) had a climate, and (b) said climate was static.

In A Perfect (Orwellian) World, All People Would Be Danica Patrick

Here is what Danica Partick, NASCAR driver, Go Daddy titillator, and statesman had to say when asked about the current debate over mandatory contraception funding:

"I leave it up to the government to make good decisions for Americans."

The problem, Ms. Patrick, is that in the eyes of government all Americans are equal but some are more equal than others.

(Bonus note: did you know you can read the collected works of George Orwell, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin online for free?)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Most Offensive Thing I've Ever Read

It suddenly got cold in North Dakota today, with wind chills near zero this morning. So I guess it's as good a time as any to read something to make your blood boil. This article in the New York Times claims that the U.S. Constitution is losing its influence.
In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
No, that isn't so galling. After all, what difference does it make what constitutional model burgeoning democracies use? No, what's galling are the critiques of our Constitution contained within that supposedly show "what's wrong with it".
The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights.
Funny, we always hear how young America is, especially compared to our societal betters in Europe's old democracies. Now suddenly, we're too old. And, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" doesn't seem small to me.
In an interview, Professor Law identified a central reason for the trend: the availability of newer, sexier and more powerful operating systems in the constitutional marketplace. “Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1,” he said.
The implication here is that our constitution doesn't work anymore and should be replaced. After all, that's what you do with an old operating system, right? Our constitution is more like a poem by a laureate or a painting by a master. It endures. It's still around because it works so well. It hasn't been replaced because frankly, there isn't anything better.
The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”
To keep the computer analogy alive, that's a feature, not a bug. If a constitution can be changed at a whim by whatever group manages to get power, it ceases to be a document that enumerates the powers and rights of a citizenry and becomes just another tool for those in power.
Americans recognize rights not widely protected, including ones to a speedy and public trial, and are outliers in prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the Constitution is out of step with the rest of the world in failing to protect, at least in so many words, a right to travel, the presumption of innocence and entitlement to food, education and health care.
We don't protect the presumption of innocence? That statement is so utterly false that there's really nothing else to say. Well, except this. The Constitution may not say "in so many words" that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The law does say that however. And, as we'll see shortly, the author is very enamored with the idea of a judiciary expanding rights that aren't explicitly spelled out in a constitution, at least when Canadians do it.

The rest of that quote gets to the heart of some people's problem with the constitution. It doesn't list things like food, education and healthcare as rights. Well, that's because they're not. To borrow my own words: we have laws to define acceptable behavior in a society and to convey privileges (or restrict said privileges). Rights are things we can never envision or support being taken away.

There's a good reason the our constitution doesn't list every possible right. It's because the framers knew that was an impossible task. The very reason so many "newer" contitutions are easier to amend is because they attempt this impossible task. Just when they think it's perfect, along comes some new technology and, boom! New "right" coming through. Notice that even the NYT article uses the word "entitlement" to describe food, education, and healthcare.
It has its idiosyncrasies. Only 2 percent of the world’s constitutions protect, as the Second Amendment does, a right to bear arms.
I love that something so fundamental as a right to defend yourself through force of arms is labeled an "idiosyncracy". Guess we know where the author stands on gun control.

The author however, does love the Canadian Charter:
The Canadian Charter is both more expansive and less absolute. It guarantees equal rights for women and disabled people, allows affirmative action and requires that those arrested be informed of their rights. On the other hand, it balances those rights against “such reasonable limits” as “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
"We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal." Sounds pretty expansive (the use of the royal "men" notwithstanding) to me. Also, the author is being disingenuous with the phrase "more expansive and less absolute". What that really means is that the Charter puts far more limitations on things like freedom of speech, religion and assembly than the U.S Constitution and relies on the courts to broaden those rights, which was somehow a problem with the U.S. Constitution.

It should also be noted that the Times author is conflating the Charter with a constitution. The Charter is actually analogous to our Bill of Rights, which makes the next bit especially confusing.
There are, of course, limits to empirical research based on coding and counting, and there is more to a constitution than its words, as Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights,” he said.

“The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours,” he said, adding: “We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!”
The author wants this passage to read as though the Bill of Rights is somehow lessened by the actions of totalitarians in other countries. "Oh, the Bill of Rights," he seems to be saying, "the Soviet Union had one of those!" The Bill of Rights may be just paper, but so is the Canadian Charter. So is every constitution, everywhere.

It's a bit disengenous to try and tie the Bill of Rights' worth to that of the old Soviet Union. Is there really any comparison to how those rights were treated under the U.S.S.R. and the United States?

And, if as the author asserts, these are just pieces of paper, then what purpose does his article serve? Besides making my blood boil, that is.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ghost Trees

Artist Depicts Obama Standing On The Constitution

An artist's work depicting President Obama stepping on the Constitution and turning his back on both the Founding Fathers and a figure seated on a bench is making internet rounds.
In front of the White House a man is sitting on a park bench in the throes of depression. He is surrounded by all 43 presidents. In the forefront, purposefully ignoring the depressed man is President Obama, whose right foot is stepping on the Constitution. James Madison is next to Obama, pleading with him to stop.

This tableau is called “The Forgotten Man”, a painting by Jon McNaughton, an artist who is known for his politically-charged work.
The headline of the article is "Controversial Artist Depicts Obama Trampling The Constitution". As soon as I saw this, I figured the left blogosphere would be all up in arms, so in anticipation, I thought I'd go ahead and make their argument for them.

Depicting a sitting president in this manner is wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is okay though. (Really, read the comments.)

And this. (I wonder what the artist thinks now that bin Laden is dead by President Obama's order?)

And this. (A poor effort by the standards of the medium, actually.)

And this. (Points deducted for the duplication of theme.)

And of course, we shouldn't forget the amateur artists out there, just doing their thing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Settled" Climate Science Just Got Unsettled

Well, actually it was never settled, but you get the idea. After years of trying to persuade us that we had to stop emitting carbon, like, yesterday or we would all be doomed to heat death -- okay, that's hyperbole. What they really wanted was the U.S. to sharply curb CO2 emissions (and damn the economic effects) and introduce global food rationing. So, I guess it wasn't that hyperbolic after all.

Anyway, after all the handwringing, it turns out that the warming trend we've heard so much about ended in 1997.
Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

Solar output goes through 11-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak.

We are now at what should be the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24’ – which is why last week’s solar storm resulted in sightings of the aurora borealis further south than usual. But sunspot numbers are running at less than half those seen during cycle peaks in the 20th Century.
Analysis by experts at NASA and the University of Arizona – derived from magnetic-field measurements 120,000 miles beneath the sun’s surface – suggest that Cycle 25, whose peak is due in 2022, will be a great deal weaker still.
There's a plaintive cry from some bitter clingers -- where on earth did I get that phrase from? -- that any reduced solar output will more than be compensated for by man-made global warming.

The problem with that argument is that we've been hearing for years that the earth is warming. It turns out that wasn't true. We've been hearing for years that the "science is settled". It turns out that it was only settled to the extent that "scientists" with a political agenda attempted to blacklist any scientists who disagreed with the International Panel on Climate Control and manipulate data that didn't fit those politics.

And of course, it must be asked: if human actions were artificially warming the planet then it must be true that the only reason global temperatures have remained steady since 1997 (rather than dropping) would be due to those actions. So, drastically reducing carbon emissions would precipitate global cooling. Following that train of thought leads to some unexpected and unwanted destinations for certain political factions, I daresay.

Oh also, it isn't global warming; that phrase is so passè. It's global climate change. So, all the handwringing over whether the planet is warming or not isn't important. What is important is that humans are destroying the planet! (Seriously, I see that a lot.)

My reply to that is to ask a couple of questions:

1. At what point in history has the climate of the earth been unchanging? (If you answer anything other than "never", you're wrong.)

2. If humans went back to a period of history before the industrial revolution -- heck, if every human and machine disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow -- do you believe that earth's climate would settle into some ideal state and remain static for eternity? (Because if not, then I'll need more than the word of some obviously compromised "scientists" to work for either the permanent regression of mankind or its complete destruction. Also, you might want to think about question 1 before you answer.)

Now, with the revelation that the trumpted warming trend stopped fifteen years ago, I have another question:

If it turns out that we are headed for another "little ice age", would you support increased CO2 emissions in an effort to stabilize the climate?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do You Know Who's Tracking Your Web Usage?

My friend Cheryl posted a link on Facebook to an article that describes the way in which Google Analytics tracks the websites you visit and even which searches you perform on those sites (a) while knowing your identity and (b) without your having used any Google product to get to those sites.

Here's what's going on behind the scenes:
First, we see a transaction to Google Analytics to retrieve some JavaScript. Part of this JavaScript's purpose is to enable tracking even when users have cookies disabled.

Once this JavaScript is retrieved and executed by the browser, the Google JavaScript prepares a second request to Google for a special image file. In the request for that image file Google embeds tracking information which will be used during the rest of the session on the IRS website...

Now, I enter some search terms into the IRS website search box. For the sake of emphasizing the point, I enter the terms "Offer in Compromise", and hit return. While the search itself is presumably handled privately by the IRS site, surprisingly, the search terms are also sent to Google. This happens when the search results page makes another request for Google's hidden tracking image we previously observed. Web requests typically contain not just the URL of the request, but also the URL for the page from which the request is being made...

Finally, I now click on one of the search results to view a specific document. The Google tracking image is again requested, and in that request, the URL for document I chose to click on is sent to Google. In this way, Google is informed of which documents I view on the [website]. This happens whether or not I arrived at the document by searching or navigating on the [site]...

We've now seen not only that Google is tracking your use of the [website], but also may be receiving information that specifically identifies you. I believe it is, in fact, likely that they are receiving specifically identifying information from many users of the site because many users are logged in to some Google web property while browsing. This includes anyone who's logged in to Gmail before browsing the [site].
This procedure can happen on any site that leverages Google intellectual property. How many sites' internal searches are "powered by Google" alone? Now add in sites that embed YouTube videos, pictures via Picasa... you're starting to get the picture.

The purpose of this post is not to bash Google, though there is plenty here to bash. Instead, I want to take the opportunity to point out that my employer has tools in its latest browser that prevents this sort of thing from happening. How? Internet Explorer (IE) 9 leverages something called Tracking Protection Lists. These lists are maintained by third parties (indeed, anyone can create their own as they like; it still works with the browser) and block ads, pop-ups, and, most importantly, block requests to your browser for just the sort of information that tracking cookies (and the Google Analytics shenanigans above) attempt to get from your browsing session.

How does it work? Well, this article explains it in detail.

More importantly, how do you set this up in your browser? That's easy.