Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Silence of the Lambs

We all knew al Qaeda wasn't above hitting below the belt. But an underwear bomb? They really stooped to new lows this time.

But there's a certain genius in the underwear bomb, whether or not it succeeded as a weapon, given the American propensity to overreact to each new terror tactic. We all had to start taking off our shoes at airports after the failed shoe bombing. Now, presumably, TSA screening efforts will focus on our underwear. What new humiliations and indignities will follow, one can only imagine.

Al Qaeda may be as interested in inflicting mass humiliation on America as mass casualties: stripping away our last shred of dignity, along with our clothes, may be the group's ultimate goal. When we're all forced by TSA to board airplanes wearing nothing but hospital gowns -- our ass checks hanging out there, exposed to the elements, in order to better accomodate the body cavity search -- that will be the end of America as we know it. We'll have been reduced by al Qaeda to a nation of bleating sheep, all the better to be led off to slaughter -- a people who will bow to (or bend over for) each new security measure, no matter how humiliating, idiotic or pointless, even while the federal bureaucrats in charge of homeland security are bumbling and fumbling with our lives.

TSA is a lot like "the great and powerful Oz" -- all smoke-and-mirrors bluster, meant to awe and bamboozle the boobs. And as long as we pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, and passively and mindlessly comply with the Wizard's demands, the flimsy illusion called "homeland security" can be maintained.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Speak Up, Mr. President

President Obama acquitted himself poorly the last time he had an opportunity to speak up for freedom in Iran. Apparently reluctant to rile the mullahs, and heeding the advice of those who argue that overt American support for the Iranian resistance will undermine it's legitimacy, the President stood by and said little as the regime violently crushed pro-reform forces.

Now comes another uprising -- and a do-over for Obama.

Whether he repeats his earlier mistake will tell a great deal not just about his personal character and courage, but about whether he has the stones to champion American ideals and interests abroad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ski Train Derailed By Federal Red Tape

Who put Colorado's Ski Train out of commission, just days before it was about to begin it's 70th year of service between Denver and Winter Park? A federal judge did, technically. But the impasse that led to the lawsuit, which led to Wednesday's ruling that derailed the service -- perhaps temporarily, buy maybe permanently -- can almost certainly be traced back to federal rules and red tape.

The company that's trying to keep the trains running (Iowa Pacific), after the long-time operator (The Anschutz Co.) pulled out, was forced by rail line owner Union Pacific to crew the trains with Amtrak personnel. Why that should be a requirement, no media report explains. But that was probably the kiss of death for the Colorado Ski Train, since any operation involving Amtrak -- the train wreck of federal bureaucracies -- is bound to get bogged-down in union-mandated staffing requirements and federal red tape. And sure enough, that seems to have happened here.

Iowa Pacific, believing it had reached agreement with Amtrak, began selling tickets and promoting the service. That's when Amtrak began making additional demands -- one of which boosted the company's liability insurance requirements from $2 million to $200 million for the season. The safety of the trains also became an issue, with the company insisting that it meets all standards, while attorneys for Amtrak waived red flags. The most detailed coverage of the conflict can be found in The Denver Business Journal: here and here.

If you dig a few layers deeper, you'd undoubtedly discover many costly and unreasonable demands made on Iowa Pacific as a result of its forced partnership with Amtrak. Nothing is simple, affordable or efficient once the federal government is involved. The history of Amtrak testifies to that. Iowa Pacific may not be blameless in this situation. But my best guess -- based on years of watching the federal government in inaction -- is that the company is being railroaded by Amtrak, unions and federal bureaucrats.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crossing the Rubicon

"We have to keep our eyes on what we're trying to do here,” Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said yesterday, while fending off a reporter’s niggling question about why so much bribery was required to get the CongressCare bill passed. “We're trying to cross a demarcation line. On one side is health care as a privilege, on the other side is health care as a right. With these votes, with the vote that we'll take before Christmas, we will cross that line finally and say that health care is a right of all Americans."

This may not be the most frightening political quote of 2009. But it certainly ranks near the top of the heap.

Watch It and Weep

One trait common among Detroiters, and we in The Legion of Ex-Detroiters (I wonder if we could form our own voting block?), is a morbid sense of humor about our old home town. This permits us to watch YouTube posts like this one -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hhJ_49leBw -- without breaking down in tears.

Even non-Detroiters might take an interest in this, however -- if only as a lesson in how to (or how not to) destroy a major American city. Why is Detroit relevant to non-Detroiters? Because, says the host, "Detroit has been the perfect laboratory for leftist policies at work for nearly half a century: it's the perfect vision of the leftist Utopia that this (Obama) administration sees." An outrageous statement? Perhaps. But not too far off the mark, in the view of this ex-Detroiter.

One slender ray of hope in the otherwise pessimism-inducing picture is new Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who I remember best as a Pistons player. Here's a recent profile of Bing in the Wall Street Journal. He seems like a good man, with the right attitudes. But so did Dennis Archer.

Ex Post Facto "Incentives"

IBM probably spends more than $35,000 a year on ballpoint pens and paperclips. So does anyone really believe that the city of Boulder landed a new IBM service center, and the 500 jobs that go with it, because of $35,000 in tax "incentives" it will give the company?

The Boulder Daily Camera seems to believe it, judging from its diligence in drawing these causal connections. "IBM gets $35,000 business incentive from Boulder, will add 500 jobs," reads the headline. And Boulder city officials may also choose to believe it, since it would seem to justify this obvious misuse of public money. But does anyone else really, truly, honestly believe that a corporate behemoth like IBM made this decision based on a penny-ante $35,000 handout from the city?

You'd have to be a PhD to believe anything so far-fetched.

The company has been a presence in Boulder for years. It actually has a "campus" there. It made this move based not on a measly $35,000 in tax rebates, but because it makes compelling business sense, unrelated to this payment. The company apparently is shameless enough to take "free" money when "free" money is offered: the widespread bidding for jobs with public funds has created a mercenary culture inside too many board rooms. But no sensible person would in this case connect one event with the other.

I'm not saying "incentives" never matter. In some cases, they may make a difference, at the margins. But other factors still matter more -- like the fact that IBM already has a campus in Boulder. Corporate executives have become very shrewd about collecting "incentives" for choices they would probably have made without them.

If folks in Boulder want to believe that this $35,000 offering played a pivotal part in the decision, and congratulate themselves on their economic development prowess, who's going to pop their big green balloon? Certainly not the top brass at IBM, who are laughing about this all the way to the bank.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Far From The Madding Crowd

What an invaluable resource for reasoning people the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal continues to be -- countering the general dumbing-down of media and simpering namby-pambyism that dominates the opinion sections of most American newspapers. Particularly insightful and timely have been a series of pieces on the topic of climate change, which I'll link to below for the benefit of those who don't make the WSJ a regular stop on their reading list.

Here a respected biologist calls for reconsideration of the somewhat rigid, romanticized way we look at nature.

Here Patrick Michaels -- a man who has suffered at the hands of the eco-McCarthyists -- explains how the alarmist camp of climate researchers managed to "manufacture" the myth of a scientific "consensus."

Here Howard Bloom argues that climate change is just nature's way.

Here the "skeptical environmentalist," Bjorn Lomborg, calls for a smarter response to climate variation.

At a time when all the country frequently seems on the verge of mass insanity, it's comforting to know that there's at least one place to turn where reason and critical thinking still can be found.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Radical, Where Art Thou?

Protest marches on college campuses are old news, at least since the 1960s. But what makes this march different, and noteworthy, is the mysterious absence of students -- students who are usually quick to join in on civil rights fights.

This protest was organized not by students, or by the faculty, however, but by residents of neighborhoods near Columbia University, who fear the school will use eminent domain in pursuit of a West Harlem expansion project. A New York appeals court recently slapped down the school, ruling that its efforts to displace holdouts, through eminent domain, were unconstitutional. The protesters are asking Columbia not to appeal the decision; to build around the holdouts. But school officials are noncommittal.

It's curious that Columbia's famously-radical students are largely silent on the issue. This isn't the '60s, I know. But isn't the indignation of students stirred by seeing working-class people bullied by the school into giving up their homes and businesses? One of the school's few libertarians raised his voice in protest, yet campus liberals (the self-styled champions of civil rights) haven't much been heard from.

Where is the anger?

Where is the outrage?

Where is the outcry for justice?

All are absent in this case, except from non-students in the neighborhood.

Does apathy explain it? Or could it be that Columbia students, so quick to see injustice elsewhere (and everywhere), can't see it when it's right under their noses? Has self-interest in this case trumped self-righteous indignation? Perhaps, more ominously, the liberals at Columbia don't see property rights as a civil right, although they were recognized by the country's founders as paramount. The big brains at Columbia surely must see that all civil rights are undermined if a person isn't secure in her person or possessions. Don't alarm bells go off at seeing the state empowered to take someone's property, virtually at will?

This highlights a curious blind spot on the part of American left-wingers, who are so shrill in defense of other (arguably less-important) civil rights. Property rights apparently rank low on the list of causes they'll take to the barricades for, perhaps because these rights stand as obstacles to other agenda items, like "economic justice," redistribution of wealth, social equality, government regulation, etc.

Property rights aren't recognized in the leftist fantasy land called Cuba, just as they were absent in the former Soviet Union (with which many American liberals had a love affair, let's not forget, right up to the moment the wall came down). Property rights are the first things to go when leftists take power, because they carve out a zone of individual autonomy and control that statists can't tolerate. And even here, in the civil rights-happy U.S., property rights are looked on with suspicion and scorn by the left -- are seen as speed bumps that slow the pace of state-sponsored "progress."

That, more than anything, may explain the strange absence of student radicals from the anti-Columbia protests.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The New Religion

No national columnist hits the nail as squarely on the head as consistently as Charles Krauthammer. He does it again today, with a piece about the EPA's attempted takeover of the U.S. economy, through the proposed regulation of CO2.

Of particular interest to me, though, since it echoes my own views on the subject, is Krauthammer's assertion that environmentalism has become "a new religion" -- but a religion that differs in significant ways from most others, and poses a greater threat to our political and economic liberties, because it is embraced by the state and has socialist underpinnings.

Here's the sound of the hammer hitting the nail:

"Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will be regulating practically everything. No institution that emits more than 250 tons of CO2 a year will fall outside EPA control. This means more than a million building complexes, hospitals, plants, schools, businesses and similar enterprises. (The EPA proposes regulating emissions only above 25,000 tons, but it has no such authority.) Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life.

This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet."

All totalitarian movements need a grandiose mission statement; a goal big enough to justify their abuses of power. Some have marched under the banner of racial purity; others under the banner of the proletarian revolution. In the name of "saving the planet" -- what mission could be more important than that? -- almost any abuses of political or economic liberty can be justified. It's that awareness that explains my strong aversion to the new religion called environmentalism -- and my belief that Americans, just as they insist on a separation of church and state, must also demand the separation of cult and state.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Friedman Meets Murdoch

Economist Milton Friedman famously said (or is supposed to have said) "there's no free lunch." Media mogul Rupert Murdoch says something very similar, in a slightly different context, in today's Wall Street Journal. The implications of this seemingly simple message are profound not just for the economy at large, but for a media industry transitioning from old paradigm to new. The future face of blogs like this might hang on the issue.

Murdoch is bullish on the future of journalism, at a time when many are scribbling its obituary. That's encouraging. But the success of the new media won't rest on advertising revenues, as the traditional model did. The new model will require readers to pay for what they now get "free" on the Internet. That's where the lunch thing comes in.

Murdoch says the new media will have to work harder to give news consumers the content they really want. But that’s only half the bargain. Here's the other half, in Murdoch's words:

"My second point follows from my first: Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.

The old business model based mainly on advertising is dead. Let's face it: A business model that relies primarily on online advertising cannot sustain newspapers over the long term. The reason is simple arithmetic. Though online advertising is increasing, that increase is only a fraction of what is being lost with print advertising.

That's not going to change, even in a boom. The reason is that the old model was founded on quasimonopolies such as classified advertising, which has been decimated by new and cheaper competitors such as Craigslist, Monster.com, and so on.

In the new business model, we will be charging consumers for the news we provide on our Internet sites. The critics say people won't pay. I believe they will, but only if we give them something of good and useful value. Our customers are smart enough to know that you don't get something for nothing.

That goes for some of our friends online too. And yet there are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production. Some rewrite, at times without attribution, the news stories of expensive and distinguished journalists who invested days, weeks or even months in their stories—all under the tattered veil of "fair use."

These people are not investing in journalism. They are feeding off the hard-earned efforts and investments of others. And their almost wholesale misappropriation of our stories is not "fair use." To be impolite, it's theft.

Right now content creators bear all the costs, while aggregators enjoy many of the benefits. In the long term, this is untenable. We are open to different pay models. But the principle is clear: To paraphrase a famous economist, there's no such thing as a free news story, and we are going to ensure that we get a fair but modest price for the value we provide."

Will spoiled news consumers agree to pay news producers for what they now get, and replicate, for virtually nothing? That's unknown until media companies move aggressively to restrict content to paying customers only. Some of this is done on a small scale now, but most content is still out there for the taking. Already-shaky media companies are reluctant to throw up toll gates on the "information highway" when the competition is giving it all away. Everyone sees that the freebies must end. But all the major players are standing on the edge of the pool, wondering who’s going to jump first.

Murdoch's new paradigm, if it gains ground, also has the potential to dramatically change the so-called blogosphere, given how many blogs and websites depend on re-posting mainstream media material. I frequently link to news stories in this blog, and sometimes re-publish verbatim excerpts as reference points (as I'm doing in this post). This is arguably a benefit to the originating news source, if people click back through the links. But it also raises copyright questions that can’t be ignored.

We in the blogosphere tend to think of it as borrowing, but Murdoch calls it “theft.” And I think many of the points he makes are well-taken.

But this presents a problem. I’m one of “these people,” one of these "friends online," Murdoch references in the piece. If I had to pay to insert a link, or republish an excerpt, or pay to access the myriad news sites I now view for nada, the cost of doing this will increase considerably, possibly making it impossible. So what Murdock is proposing would impact (and possibly ruin) this and millions of other blogs and websites, which currently serve as a sort of shadow media, dependent, for the most part, on content provided by the “old media.”

Many “new media” sites take glee in bashing, badgering and discrediting the “old media.” But that’s dangerous and self-defeating in my view, given that the old media remains the baseline that most of us still use as a common reference point.

The new media may someday become as trusted and reliable, as a source of hard news, as the old media was in its heyday. But now, in its infancy, it’s still dependent on conventional news producers. We’ve been enjoying a Golden Age of news and information exchange, made possible by a virtually “free” web, where reams of content can be accessed at the click of a mouse. But that moment of freeloading may have to end, in order to preserve the professional information gatherers otherwise known as journalists.

If they go extinct, all you’ll have left is a tower of bloggle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Left Wing Lesson Plan

Wackos, weirdos and radicals of all stripes find welcoming and eager ears on American college campuses (some even burrow in and earn tenure); it's almost as if parents, taxpayers and tuition-payers feel obligated to expose impressionable minds to both the best and the worst of ideas, assuming students can tell the difference. But many students can't tell the difference -- which is why activist-turned-"educator" Annie Leonard received a warm reception at last week's appearance at Colorado College.

Leonard's popular video, The Story of Stuff, "details in a simplistic, almost childlike way, the linear journey that stuff takes to get to our homes and the journey it takes when we toss the stuff out," reports The Gazette. But the film's "childlike" style is designed to deceive. It actually delivers a much more adult message, leveling a wide-ranging critique of capitalism, consumerism, industrialism and Americanism, tied-up in a bright green ribbon to lower a viewer's guard.

Leonard once worked for Greenpeace. The group's extremist ethos permeates the film. "Stuff" was bankrolled in part by The Tides Foundation, which gives generously to radical causes. A quick read of the transcript, or viewing of the film, reveals that "Stuff" is much more than just a primer on resource extraction and mass consumption. It's a context-free broadside against the American way of life, full of fear-mongering distortions and political editorializing. Many of the "facts" presented are debatable. The transcript has footnotes, but most lead back to dubious, ideologically-loaded sources.

If The Story of Stuff were confined to YouTube, and it's creator to the college lecture circuit, it couldn't do too much harm. But the film is being shown in many U.S. schools, where captive and unwitting audiences are clueless about its hard-left subtext. The New York Times reported in May that the film is jumping from the Internet into the classroom, with very little resistance. It's something parents and school administrators need to be wary of.

The Times:

"More than 7,000 schools, churches and others have ordered a DVD version, and hundreds of teachers have written Ms. Leonard to say they have assigned students to view it on the Web. It has also won support from independent groups that advise teachers on curriculum choices. Facing the Future, a curriculum developer for schools in all 50 states, is drafting lesson plans based on the video."

One Montana school district banned the film, following complaints from an alert parent, according to the Times. But the public school establishment seems to be embracing the film as a legitimate teaching tool.

"In January, a school board in Missoula County, Mont., decided that screening the video treaded on academic freedom after a parent complained that its message was anticapitalist. But many educators say the video is a boon to teachers as they struggle to address the gap in what textbooks say about the environment and what science has revealed in recent years.

“Frankly, a lot of the textbooks are awful on the subject of the environment,” said Bill Bigelow, the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools, a quarterly magazine that has promoted “The Story of Stuff” to its subscribers and on its Web site, which reaches about 600,000 educators a month. “The one used out here in Oregon for global studies — it’s required — has only three paragraphs on climate change. So, yes, teachers are looking for alternative resources.”

Environmental education is still a young and variable field, according to Frank Niepold, the climate education coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There are few state or local school mandates on how to teach the subject.

The agency is seeking to change that, but in the interim many teachers are developing their own lesson plans on climate change, taking some elements from established sources like the National Wildlife Federation and others from less conventional ones like “The Story of Stuff.”

Whether endorsed by curriculum committees, or infiltrating our classrooms one DVD at a time, courtesy of teachers who don't recognize it's political overtones, The Story of Stuff is mind pollution of a toxic kind. Parents need to learn whether their kids are seeing it in school. They should demand that schools stop showing it, unless balance, context and counter-arguments are offered in response. It's left-wing indoctrination, not education -- something as out of place in the classroom as Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, which many U.S. schools passed off as a serious lesson in climate science.

Peddling this kind of "stuff" to college students is one thing; imposing it on K-12 kids is quite another.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Climategate Jr.

The reputation of climate scientists has taken a hit lately, even if a few Obama administration deniers still insist that the Climategate affair is much ado about nothing. But all the focus on the infamous hacked e-mails has overshadowed news of a more overt act of fraud, perpetrated by another "highly-respected" climate scientist -- a case that underscores the danger of putting such people on pedestals.

The accused, NASA climatologist Mark Schoeberl, got a slap on the wrist, as compared to more run of the mill felons, presumably because his long service in government and testimonials to his otherwise good character from colleagues -- including one Nobel Prize winner! -- held sway with the court. His defenders (like the defenders of monkey-wrencher Tim DeChristopher) argued that he wasn't motivated by low motives or ignoble greed, but acted out of an overzealous (but noble) desire to help protect the planet. Whether justice was served, I leave to your judgment.

Here's the story, as told by one of my favorite websites, GovExec.com:

NASA scientist avoids jail in procurement case

A prominent NASA scientist, who has admitted directing thousands of dollars in sole-source agency contracts to his wife's company and failing to report the income on a financial disclosure form, has been spared a prison sentence. The U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., on Tuesday sentenced Mark Schoeberl, 60, of Silver Spring, Md., to one year's probation and a $10,000 fine.

Schoeberl, who was a senior manager and a well-known atmospheric scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland before he retired earlier this year, pleaded guilty in September to one felony count of conflict of interest. At Tuesday's sentencing, Schoeberl, who spent 30-plus years with the agency, expressed remorse for his mistakes and admitted an error in judgment.

Three scientists, including two who still work for NASA, also addressed the court and requested leniency for Schoeberl. More than 50 other scientists, included one Nobel Prize winner, submitted letters praising his character and credentials. Schoeberl's attorney Jacob Frenkel said the sentence was a reflection of his client's "enormous contributions to world atmospheric sciences and anticipated valuable continuing work in support of climate change research."

Prosecutors agreed Schoeberl did not deserve to go to jail, noting in court documents that he quickly accepted responsibility for his conduct, had no criminal history and had a lengthy record of service at NASA. Schoeberl was the chief scientist of Goddard's earth sciences division, which conducts climate research, and the project scientist for the Aura mission to study the Earth's ozone layer, air quality and climate.

Schoeberl's position enabled him to guide funds budgeted for the Aura mission. According to the plea agreement, in mid-2004 Schoeberl began inquiring about ways to direct work to his wife Barbara's company, Animated Earth, a small business that develops and distributes Earth Today, an exhibit displaying near-real-time earth science data. The couple previously had collaborated on a host of projects and presentations for NASA and court documents indicate that the relationship was well-known at the agency.

Prosecutors said Mark Schoeberl initially encountered resistance to a plan that would have directed a $20,000 appropriation to Animated Earth, but later convinced a colleague to approve the funding. In May, Schoeberl prepared a document that justified Animated Earth as the only contractor eligible to bid on a new award for maintenance on kiosks that the company previously had installed on NASA grounds. In June, he provided another sole-source justification directing NASA contracting personnel to award a $60,000 software contract to Animated Earth.

Schoeberl's 2007 financial disclosure form did not include the more than $50,000 in contracts his wife's firm earned that year. Between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2008, Animated Earth was awarded more than $190,000 in NASA contracts, all without competition, according to data on USASpending.gov, a federal Web site that aggregates date on contract spending.

Frenkel argued that Schoeberl was not motivated by financial gain but rather by a belief that Animated Earth's software was the best product available for earth science education. "Unfortunately, his appreciation of the efficacy and value of the product, and his encouragement of its use, was inconsistent with his professional position at NASA because Dr. Schoeberl's job included responsibility for administering the educational function associated with the satellite program he supervised," the attorney wrote in a sentencing memo he prepared for the court.

"Once a NASA lawyer instructed Dr. Schoeberl that he, in substance, should not even be communicating about Earth Today, it was too late; by then the incidents supporting use of the software already had occurred." In Nov. 20 sentencing correspondence to the court, prosecutors said the government does not seem to have suffered a financial loss because "Animated Earth appears to have completed the work that it contracted with the federal government."

Nontheless, Frenkel said NASA has refused to pay an outstanding bill to Barbara Schoeberl because of the criminal case. The Goddard Space Flight Center did not respond to a request for comment. In the wake of the criminal charges against Schoeberl, agency lawyers reportedly issued a memo to staffers advising them of ethics rules and post-employment restrictions, Frenkel said in his court filings. He said several NASA employees subsequently came forward about similar ethical conflicts. Schoeberl, who has received numerous awards from the space agency and written more than 150 published articles, now finds himself out of work and "radioactive" to potential employers, Frenkel said. "The atmospheric science program has been his life and he has no desire to abandon it," he said.

Why this story received so little media play, in contrast to Climategate, is curious. Maybe fraud undertaken in the name of lining one's pockets is less interesting than fraud undertaken in the name of a cause. But it amounts to the same thing, in my opinion, since climate alarmists are guaranteed to garner more funding, more power, more media attention and adulation than scientists who take a more skeptical tack. No one ever won a government grant, after all, by arguing that everything's alright with the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

To Go Where No City Has Gone Before

The search for intelligent life in the universe must go on, because there's no sign of it in the city called Denver, on the place called planet Earth.

Human, All Too Human

That there might be a money motive behind climate change alarmism is usually dismissed by true believers. Scientists operate in a world of facts and hard data, it's assumed, standing apart from mere mortals, who act subjectively and selfishly, swayed by self-interest. The ClimateGate scandal hopefully will shatter, once and for all, that rather naive perception.

Alarmist-in-Chief Al Gore's profit motives already have been pointed out. But everyone knows he's a political huckster (and a former theology student who found a new religion), not a scientist. But scientists too are human -- all too human, as these e-mails reveal -- making them subject to all the baser motives, petty rivalries and herd-think with which the rest of us struggle. Ideology, political considerations and a craving for celebrity (think NASA's James Hansen) can also color their objectivity and work.

This isn't a slam on scientists, or on science, just a long-overdue acknowledgment that they don't always belong on the pedestal on which we place them. And the sooner Americans recognize this, the safer we'll all be from the dangers of science in the service of political extremism.

The Wall Street Journal has two related pieces on today's Editorial Page -- link and link -- I would highly recommend.

No Laughing Matter

Not so long ago in America, finding a note attached to the front door, announcing that your property was being seized to pave the way for a new football stadium, wouldn't have been credible enough to elicit more than an incredulous shrug. But such highly-improbable abuses of eminent domain became all-too-plausible after the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous 2005 Kelo ruling -- which explains the genuine alarm that swept neighborhoods near Baylor University last weekend in the wake of a Friday night prank in which faux eviction notices appeared on hundreds of homes.

Reports the Waco Tribune:

"Prank letters no joke to residents around Baylor University, who feared losing their homes to make way for new stadium

Baylor University sophomore Jordan Washington was alarmed when she saw the notice that had been taped to the door of her 10th Street home sometime Friday night.

The official-looking flier said the university was seizing properties in the neighborhood to make way for a new, $255 million football stadium to be built next March over an area from Speight Avenue at 12th Street to La Salle Avenue at Seventh Street. And it described how her home had been condemned under the state’s eminent domain law so Baylor could buy it.

All of which, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman emphasized, is “absolutely false.”

Pranksters slipped the fliers under doormats and taped them to the doors of houses and apartment buildings in neighborhoods east and south of campus, Fogleman said. Baylor police canvassed the area Saturday afternoon and collected at least 232 of them."

One hates to see people needlessly alarmed, but my hat goes off to these pranksters. They may have just been out for a little fun, but they also managed to make a political statement of sorts, by demonstrating how deeply unsettling the Kelo ruling is to many Americans. What made the prank work was the plausibility of the scenario – something that wouldn’t have been taken seriously in pre-Kelo times.