Monday, April 30, 2007


"May you never have to use the ...uh, facilities, in an Afghan village. And may I never again have to do so..."

Squat Toilet
Toilets around the world vary quite a bit. From the open air street urinals in France to the group trench style in some big bars in America, to the stinking national park hole-in-the-plank style that always makes me nervous something horrible is lurking in the reeking darkness below, there's plenty of variety. And when you travel the world even more, you run into even more.

Recently, World Net Daily reported that Kansas City International Airport added a foot washing basin for Muslim cab drivers in response to pressure from CAIR:
The move concerns airport police who worry about Middle Eastern men loitering inside the building. After 9/11, the airport beefed up its police force to help prevent terrorist attacks.

"Why are we constructing places of worship for them inside our airports?" said an airport official who requested anonymity. "Why are we catering to their rituals? We don't do it for any other religion."

Other major airports also are dealing with increased demands from Muslim cabdrivers.
Lao from the American Expat in Southeast Asia writes about this, amazed that the move is even being considered, and from that discussed toilets around the world:
German Shelf Toilet
The Asian toilet or the Muslim toilet is basically a hole the ground, there is normally a hose hanging down next to the toilet or a tub of water and a pail. You basically stand over the hole and then squat to relieve yourself. While it might sound simple so use, it isn't. Very few Westerners have ever learned to master the "Asian squat" , and the brave one's who have tried this difficult maneuver normally end up losing their balance or hoverering above the hole and crapping on the back of their pants. The hose and/or the pail are supposedly meat to used in the manner of a bidet, but it almost always ends horribly wrong with water and faeces ending up being splashed all over the place.

But it can be just as difficult for Asians and Muslims to use a Wester-style toilets. Years ago after a dinner party at my house, I was horrified when I went into the bathroom. Toilet paper was strewn everywhere, the toilet was was on the verge of overflowing, the floor was all wet and there were footprints on the toilet seat. It was a nightmare I will never forget.
Commenters then went on to discuss toilets:
As I'm sure many readers may know, in Japan they have not completely abandoned the squat toilet. Regardless of what one's thoughts are on such facilities, they can be kept clean and made more easily accessible to westerners. Perhaps the issue is how much do they value sanitary conditions?
-by Anonymous

I agree with anonymous. It's not a "muslim toilet". Didn't you ever use a restroom in a Japanese airport? They give you a choice between western and Japanese style. and in Africa, we had toilet choice for our patients; those from the country couldn't use the seat.

And here in the Philippines, we have a hose for our workers (at home they use a large cup).
-by Boinky

Squat toilets are not confined to non-westernized nations. I remember aboout 8 years ago stopping at a rest stop on the autobahn (A6?) tying Germany and Denmark together and finding a squat toilet.
-by Duane

In 1969 I made a Med cruise on a US Navy ship. We had liberty in Spain, Malta, Greece, Italy

At that time, I saw nothing but squat toilets in any of those countries.

Except in Malta. One bar did not even have a squate toilet. It had a galvanized metal bucket. I think they emptied it daily whether it needed it or not.
-by John Henry

Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain all have (exclusively) western toilets in places like airports, restaurant and malls.

They do have the hose next to the toilet though, and there is a 24/7 attendant whose job appears to be pushing the excess water down the floor drain.

Before using one, it's best to check if there is paper. Learned that one the hard way.

Always wondered how the guys in man dresses did it, but then I noticed the stall doors were usually at least 7' tall and went all the way to the floor. I'm pretty sure they strip down to their skivvies and hang the man dress on the door hook.
-by Kevin
I can't really complain about foreigners and their funny ways of using toilets, I've been to some amazingly ghastly places, areas I was afraid to touch a single surface they were so caked in filth and overrunning. Still, when you gotta go, you find a way. And these were American toilets in American businesses, usually gas stations along the way to somewhere remote and once in a while in High School. One bathroom in particular the boys took a perverse delight in violating and destroying as much as possible.

Thankfully I've never been confronted with a Bidet, although I understand they are quite popular once people get used to them.
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"I won't believe a word of it until Mullah Hari al Reid issues a fatwa."

At the Washingon Post, they noted Harry Reid's unfortunate "we lost in Iraq" comments and asked a variety of thinkers and people involved in Iraq to say what they thought, are we losing? One of the answers was this from National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley:
No Many said Anbar province was "lost" six months ago. Today, local tribes are cooperating with us to fight al-Qaeda. Iraqis, with our help, are confronting the sectarian violence in Baghdad, seeking to take back their capital so they can pursue political reconciliation.
The Anbar Province is one of the four provinces in Iraq that was most troubled by terrorism, death squads, and violence - indeed the rest of Iraq, 14 provinces, were not particularly troubled; in the Kurdish north, Iraq is an amazing success. But Anbar was not, it was one of the areas most tortured by sectarian violence. Immediately bordering Syria, it was fed by terrorists and weapons through the border and was a constant source of trouble in Iraq. Just four months ago, here's what the reporting from the area was like:
Anbar residents say that ever since former president Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have lived in constant fear.

“During Saddam Hussein’s rule ours was one of the most prosperous areas in Iraq and was developing fast. But after the US-led invasion, all that development was destroyed in a few months. As if that was not enough, we are also scared of the sectarian violence that is getting worse by the day in this area,” said Abu Mustafa, a 39-year-old resident of Ramadi, the province’s capital.

According to counter-insurgency experts, many young insurgent recruits were trained in six towns in Anbar: al-Qaim, Haditha, Anah, Hit, Fallujah and Ramadi. As a result, these five towns have witnessed particularly heavy clashes resulting in the deaths of hundreds of local citizens and the destruction of thousands of shops, schools, houses and government buildings.

“Today, the situation is spiralling out of control with the return of insurgents and the increase in the number of those displaced as a result of sectarian violence,” said Muhammad Rabia’a, media officer for Anbar province council in Ramadi, some 115km west of the capital, Baghdad.
Sounds pretty terrible, right? This is the heart of Saddam country, the triangle of towns he came from and thus his tribe lived in and which got the most benefit from his regime lay in this province. This is where Hussein was found in a spider hole.

Now, just four months later, here's what the reporting is like:
Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.

“Many people are challenging the insurgents,” said the governor of Anbar, Maamoon S. Rahid, though he quickly added, “We know we haven’t eliminated the threat 100 percent.”

Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. With the tribal leaders’ encouragement, thousands of local residents have joined the police force. About 10,000 police officers are now in Anbar, up from several thousand a year ago. During the same period, the police force here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, has grown from fewer than 200 to about 4,500, American military officials say.
There are two major changes here. First, the place is calming down and the people are happier. The second is the sudden appearance of a word that was missing in Iraq reporting for years: al`Qaeda. They've been there all this time, they've been behind the violence and strife, they've been fomenting civil war and arming, training, and assisting death squads and insurgents. The terrorist group has been active in Iraq since before President Bush was even elected. They just haven't been mentioned except tangentially with Zarqawi before he was sent to his just reward.

So what happened, what changed? Well there's two things missing in this report. First, this isn't a new development. Even as that IRIN report was filed and printed, things were getting better. Bill Roggio is one of the independent reporters like Michael Totten who has been in the area for years and reporting on what has been happening, good and bad, without any editors with a grudge or an agenda to hone. As Milblogger Major Chaz points out:
Take this quote from Roggio:
The establishment of the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of tribal leaders who have vowed to hunt al-Qaeda, the beginnings of a political process in the region, and the latest recruiting drive that brought in 1,115 police recruits throughout Anbar could not take place without a U.S. military presence. While the Iraqi Army is making strides towards tactical independence, it still relies on the U.S. in this dangerous province. The tribal sheikhs and politicians understand this.
That quote almost looks like it could have come from the NYT story…..except for the fact that it was written in December of 2006. In fact, Roggio has been reporting on these developments since March of 2006.
While we should give reporter Kirk Semple kudos for actually traveling to Anbar to get the story, several bloggers have been on the ground consistently over the last year, and producing major stories to rival the quality of the NYT.
Make no mistake, things are still troubled there, it's just a lot better, and what's more, the Iraqi people are turning against the terrorists and death squads. They are assisting the Iraqi police, and the coalition soldiers. The reason? Primarily because of what is being called the "surge" although it has little to do with more troops on the ground. As I noted in my weekend essay on Iraq and Algiera, the "counterinsurgency" efforts are making the difference, a shift in tactics. The last sentence I quoted from the New York Times gives a hint: establishing Iraqi centers of control and civilization, working with locals for support, and turning Iraqi citizens against the bad guys. In addition, the coalition is
clearly defeating the enemy, showing strength, and demonstrating the weakness of the bad guys, as the Times continues on:
At the same time, American and Iraqi forces have been conducting sweeps of insurgent strongholds, particularly in and around Ramadi, leaving behind a network of police stations and military garrisons, a strategy that is also being used in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, as part of its new security plan.
This is all good, they are finally covering what they ought to have years ago and what you should have known if you were reading reporters on the ground in the area rather than writers who either get their tips from terrorist-paid informants in Baghdad hotels or in the US writing stories that terrorist-sympathizing local "stringers" send them. Commenters at JustOneMinute Typepad analyzed this story in the light of Tom MaGuire's analysis that one political party at least loses when things go well in Iraq (and they don't use an Elephant for their symbol):
The Times have to print something. More and more good news is coming out of this area. Of course, they have damned the surge with faint praise. They still have to print that we are still losing in Iraq even with these wins. They have to say the wins are fragile and shaky at best. But in order not to entirely lose their credibility they have to print something.
-by Barbara S

What is forgotten out in Anbar is that not all of the tribes were loyal to Ba'athists or Saddam, and were treated just like anyone else the tyrant didn't like: they were targeted for special treatment by the various secret police organizations. Last AUG-SEP the tribes formed their own coalition and shifted to government allegiance in Anbar and that winning over of the tribes (25 of 31 locally) started the influx of Sunni Arabs into local police and the New Iraqi Army. Additionally the tribes agreed to slowly integrate their existing militias until better forces could take over for them. Looking across the spectrum of Iraq one sees a mosaic theme arising of how little trust the local people have in *any* government due to the level of terror and death inflicted on them over the decades of Saddam and Ba'athist rule before him. Even under Saddam Falluja was considered to be a relatively lawless place and US Forces coming in saw that the most reliable, trustworthy unit of government was the *family* not necessarily the *tribe*. Any one who has lived in any Nation on the planet that has some basic government that is quasi-reliable will not see that. Even repressive regimes get a bit of tempering out in regions far from direct control across the Middle East and Africa. What it takes to so play tribes against each other that families inside them no longer give them full trust is a long-term attack on civil society.

Even where the tribes have remained in relatively good standing, like Ramadi, the MNF-I could not do more than basic garrison there for years and only late last year did that change. The slow turn of Ramadi and the day-in, day-out of retaking neighborhoods from al Qaeda is slow, but with help from Iraqi Army and Security Forces this has happened to the point where re-opening factories will start this year and actual *employment* begin. As factories depend upon supply chains and infrastructure for water, sewer and electrical services, that means they are also coming along. Still the distrust in places like Ramadi is one where they have actually trusted the Iraqi Army *more* than neighboring city's police forces. That, too, is a telling sign of long term social structure decay that was specifically done by the previous regime.

For those wondering why the older styles of counter-insurgency were not done, that single underlying reason of no *trust* in any government structure is it. The 'oil drop' concept, even in Nations that have a reliable government and some small amount of trust have problems, long term, with quelling insurgencies. To this day in South and Central America, parts of Africa and Asia there are still ongoing, low level insurgencies that have been going on for decades with the occasional bomb blast, assassination and general terror attack on governments and civil organs of government.

From two on-the-ground sources we get that direct view that the Ba'athist regime did not stay around to be held accountable but disintegrated. Both John Burns and Michael Ware have stated as much after spending years talking with folks on the ground in various parts of Iraq. As all the pre-war plans counted on there being something left of the Ba'athist regime they all failed in the non-presence of it post-conflict. The dismissal of the regime was not a sending home of anyone, but a recognition of there was no one there in power *to* send home. Even if we had more than a few weeks of reliable HUMINT, this would not have been expected as those Nations *with* reliable HUMINT did not warn us about the frailty of Iraqi society.

In the West we assume much about society, continuity of government and basic understanding of why even awful government needs to be kept around to prevent anarchy. Saddam's regime removed that as a viable basis for any post-war work and had spent decades at just that work attacking the next most reliable form of trustworthy government: the tribes.

How long does it take to establish that level of trust for basic services that are *not* used as a cudgel against people within a society? A decade? Two? A generation? Two? Three? That can and must be done, primarily by Iraqis, but they are pointing out that their indigenous forces are still only about half-strength at this point in time. Out of all the Provinces Iraqis completely control 3 of them, and the rest are held under Iraqi command but via MNF-I control, with a couple of them, like Anbar, still uncontrolled.

The tribes stepping up to the plate is a matter of their placing trust in their government and the MNF-I. They have had first-hand experience with an Iraqi Army that actually *helps them* and *defends them* and finds ways for society to be knit back together. Yes, Sunni tribes in Ramadi and Falluja trust Shia members of the IA and ISF! That is not a country heading towards sectarian 'civil war', but one with externally funded and employed insurgencies infiltrating men, arms and cash to undermine what is being built. This is a grave threat to extremist sectarian groups across the Middle East and is forcing them to coalesce to counter this.

That is what one party in the US wishes to abandon: common civil government held in common by a people of a Nation of all ethnicities and all religions. Run away from that and you run away from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648... the basis for Nation States to allow people within Nations to have separate outlooks in religion. It took hundreds of thousands, millions, dead in Europe due to religious wars to establish that. 15-20% of the population base in the 30 years war *separate* from plagues, although that sure did not help. That is Western Civilization having found accommodation of religion separate from Nation. Enemies who target that are striking at the underlying foundation of Nations to have democracy, to have liberty separate from religion of the State.

A very strange thing to retreat *from*.

Not protecting it can expect to see decades like the 30 years war on a global basis. If you think a car bomb or two a day is hard, imagine the scale of violence that will remove 15-20% of the present day global population over the next 30 to 100 years. And no assurances that Nation States as a concept will survive. Our Enemy opens up that pre-1648 world and is slowly taking out those old concepts and dusting them off. They like that idea of Religion over all of Mankind.

And it is no help that some folks want to prop the time vault door open and point out the best ways to bring down Nations or just cheer them on. A lacking in a basic survival instinct, that... how unfortunate that they are the woolly, gelatinous, spineless masses sitting Upon the Hill and at the levers of government.
-by ajacksonian

I think the real frustration here is the total lack of fight left in President Bush. He has many opportunities to take on his domestic enemies. For instance, after Pelosi's disastrous trip to Syria, he could have sent a team of diplomats to "repair the damage". Put those fools on the defensive for a change. He's just not in the game.

I hope he vetoes the bill with a group of Silver Star recipients in the background.

His communication skills have gotten worse, not better. Heck, even little Jessica Lynch has improved her communication skills. She performed well at Waxman's show trial.

Bush's performance last week with the Japanese Prime Minister was a disaster.
-by Kate

I'm not sure what the President can do to affect public perception. His use of the bully pulpit is obvioulsy less than optimal, but the media response (focusing on minutiae, airing opposing views after each event, and questioning every assertion) is far more effective at opinion shaping.

The media myths are more persistent than reality. For example, check out yesterday's Truth: first casualty of Iraq, which hits all the bases:

* No WMDs or programs were found;
* Wilson debunked the Nigieren forgeries;
* The forgeries formed the basis for the uranium claims;
* The WMD assessment was based almost entirely on "Curveball" and stovepiped intel from Chalabi.

If you look at the amount of Administration time and effort that went into debunking these contentions--including declassification of the NIE, public statements from the CIA chief that Wilson's report never mentioned documents at all--you can see it's a losing proposition. In fact, far from proving the main points that the consensus of the intel community supported Administration claims, minor caveats were trotted out as further evidence of duplicitousness. The bottom line is that the media runs the story, and if they insist on lying about it, they can.
-by Cecil Turner
The problem is with the NYT story, as encouraging as it is to see... there's almost no mention of the surge or the change in tactics at all in this report. Matthew at Live Journal explains:
Huh! Well, it's certainly nice that the Iraqis are starting to take an active interest in their own survival, that's for sure. But surely the 'surge' has played some role in it, right? A quick ctrl-F, search for 'surge', and we find...

...nothing. That's right, the surge doesn't exist. It's not that they claim it's had no effect, it doesn't exist. The closest the Times comes to acknowledging any effort by the United States to improve things is the barest of passing mentions:
At the same time, American and Iraqi forces have been conducting sweeps of insurgent strongholds, particularly in and around Ramadi, leaving behind a network of police stations and military garrisons, a strategy that is also being used in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, as part of its new security plan.
The legacy media is in kind of a bind. They want to keep portraying Iraq as a miserable failure and avoid the good stuff, but at the same time, if it keeps getting better there it might not end up so awful and the Democrats can't take credit for a win if they don't get media help. So what to do? Matthew believes he has the answer: pretend the Iraqis themselves did it, so the military surge was worthless and indeed it might have even gotten in the way.

That military wasn't the answer, and President Bush's cowboy rush to violence was the cause of, not the solution to the problems. I don't know, I doubt the media is that coordinated or thinks that far ahead. I believe they are primarily driven by a desire for money, and their present situation is bad and getting worse in terms of circulation and advertising dollars. I also think that people willing to get fresh news out of Iraq are met with interest by publishers because it's a story that has gone somewhat stale but sells papers.

We'll see how all this plays out but I suspect by 2008 we'll see yet another turnaround by many of the Democrats who are crying failure, loss, and surrender right now.
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Songs I Like: Marble Halls (Enya)

But I also dreamt which charmed me most
that you loved me still the same

By all rights, I shouldn't care for Enya. It's breathy and overproduced, with her voice redubbed dozens of times to give it ethereal depth. It's Celtic and mystical, two overdone concepts in popular culture that smack of new age goofiness. The songs are romantic with sweeping violin-type music hearkening to Musak or the sappiest movie soundtracks.

I just can't help myself. It's beautiful and lush and makes me think of green forests with mists and magic. It hearkens back to a time that never was, an idyllic view of medieval periods where the women had all their teeth and the men lived past 40, where the floors weren't covered with rot and the people didn't have boils and would bathe more than once a few weeks. In idealized version of the past, with knights in gleaming armor and ladies even more beautiful than the castles and forests they strode.

Enya is soothing and quieting, and often I'll use her music to fall asleep at night. It's a weakness perhaps. Of her songs, I like Storms in Africa the most, it's rousing and sounds like a powerful storm, the waves crashing against the wooden hull of a sailing ship, struggling to face the sea and survive until tomorrow. It's mostly music and because it is in Gaelic, the lyrics are to most incomprehensible. Another song I particularly like of hers is even more romantic and almost embarrassing to reveal.

It's called Marble Halls, and it is the song of a princess in the height of luxury and comfort, living in a wondrous palace where men come to her daily with gifts and offers of marriage. She is wooed by the rich and the powerful with deeds of valor and words to melt the heart of any lady. Yet through it all what matters most to her, more than the money, more than the comfort, the palace, the knights and lords, more than their gifts and words and deeds was the love of a man. Even as she is taken to wed one of the men of valor and great political power, what matters most to her is his love, the only love she will allow in her heart.

It's sad and beautiful at the same time, the kind of idealized dream of love that many of us poor saps out here wish we could know and never find. The dream of a woman who would abandon all the greatest trappings of life just to be with someone she loves. Sad, because as a Princess, she does not have this option and can only sit and remember and thrill in his unending love for her.

Maybe I should just hand in my man card and get my hair done at the Pink Sapphire right now.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls
with vassals and serfs at my side,
and of all who assembled within those walls
that I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches all too great to count
and a high ancestral name.
But I also dreamt which pleased me most
that you loved me still the same,
that you loved me
you loved me still the same,
that you loved me
you loved me still the same.
I dreamt that suitors sought my hand,
that knights upon bended knee
and with vows no maidens heart could withstand,
they pledged their faith to me.
And I dreamt that one of that noble host
came forth my hand to claim.
But I also dreamt which charmed me most
that you loved me still the same
that you loved me
you loved me still the same,
that you loved me
you loved me still the same.
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Quote of the Day

“Hey. This won’t be the first time I have worked for a publisher who thought he was God.”
-Arnaud de Borchgrave, starting his job as editor of the Washington Times
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Saturday, April 28, 2007

GLOBAL WARMING, pt 3 - Questions and Answers

"The scientific agenda has moved from improving the predictions to thinking about what are the chances of something awful happening."

Rougher than Earth
Any visit to a major blog will eventually see some sort of mention of global warming, and in the comments this inevitably will result in debate and discussion over various aspects of it. This debate continues at dinner tables, classrooms, water coolers, and sporting events around the world. The topic of global warming has become so popular and well-known that even magazines such as Sports Illustrated which have absolutely nothing to do with science have had cover stories on the topic.

In these discussions there are repeated themes, specific arguments that come up again and again, often without resolution. Some of them are hysterical proclamations, some are insulting and dismissive, some are informative and curious. The biggest problem we face in this debate is that so few are informed but so many have incredibly strong opinions and believe they've learned it all.

I'm no climatologist or atmospheric expert, I have no degree in meteorology, and while I took classes in these fields in college I didn't specialize in them and it has been over twenty years since that point (they still were considering global cooling at that time). I am, however, an accomplished researcher and can tap into the thoughts and information of people who are experts and more informed in this field.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a body of scientists and bureaucrats who met at the United Nations to study the trend and potential effects of global warming in the future. This body was formed in 1988 by two United Nations bodies: the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program. It is open only to members of these two bodies, but specific experts are invited to testify and give their opinions. This is how the UN describes this body:
The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.

Review is an essential part of the IPCC process. Since the IPCC is an intergovernmental body, review of IPCC documents should involve both peer review by experts and review by governments.
The very inception and design of this organization is to find out what effects humans are having on climate change and its risks. The presumption, then, is that humans are affecting climate change and thus there are risks from this effect. Whether this is true or not, and how true, we'll look at in a moment, for now this fact is just something to consider when you read and think about their reports.

The IPCC has released four reports and one supplemental report from 1990 to 2007. Each one tried to examine the amount of effect humans have on the global climate and how much danger and risk this creates for the planet and its inhabitants. The first report noted that the planet's overall temperature as best we can measure seems to be rising, by about .3 to 1.5 degrees celsius over the last century. It suggested that CO2 levels are increasing and contributing to this rise, and that this would continue and worsen over the next century.

These themes continued for the next three reports, with the 1998 and 2001 reports growing in their stridency and tone of warning and castrophe. Each subsequent report was more dire, increasing the warnings and stated concerns. The water levels would rise and cause flooding, the temperature could make earth nearly unlivable for humans, the famines and starvation will be epic, and so on.

The 2001 report is the one that is most talked about and is the report which Vice President Gore based his movie and traveling Powerpoint lectures on. Among the report is the prediction that in the next hundred years global temperatures will increase by 1.4 to 5.8 Celsius, the sea level will raise by 0.1 to 0.9 meters, and that these effects will cause glacial melting, flooding, and reduced productivity of farmlands resulting in famine.

The worst of these predictions assume no changes in behavior and human activity in the next century, the best presume an aggressive campaign to reduce emissions and human impact on the climate. Thus, at best, this report suggested that the sea will go up by a foot, and the temperature will raise by about 2 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit, if we all aggressively reduce emissions, everywhere. This is where Al Gore gets his data and makes his predictions, this is the basis for An Inconvenient Truth that he wants every schoolkid everywhere to have to watch.

The 2007 report - based on the most recent data and study - is a bit less dire and alarming. The sea flooding was dropped from up to twenty feet to about 23 inches at the most (the low end is around 7 inches). The most the temperature is predicted to possibly increase has been lowered by .5 degrees Celsius. The effect of various factors was shifted as more has been learned about what forces have effect on our environment. These effects are called "forcing" and are described as ways that different factors increase or decrease warming. For example, in the 2001 report, we have this chart:
As you can see, the chart admits that the further to the right you move, the less science understands about the factor involved, and thus how much it affects the forcing.The line is static temperature (no change), the bars above it are effects that increase the temperature, ones below decrease. Solid color bars are what science can detect and understands at present, and the lines are what is predicted or expected from modeling.

In the 2007 report, solar effects are increased, human effects decreased by 25% and the negative forcing of aerosol haze (particulates in the atmosphere that block the sun's radiation and thus heat) have increased. In other words, as scientists continue to debate and study this, the more they understand and the more accurate their information becomes. Less guesswork, more comprehension.

Now with that as a groundwork, here are a few common questions or points brought up about Global Warming in debates that you'll see and hear.
Q: Are humans causing global warming?
Short answer: in the past global warming wasn't caused by humans, but humans have an impact on the environment.

This is the big question, some would have you believe that it is absolutely certain and there is no longer any debate. Some would have you think that scientists are unanimous in this, that the reports are in and it's all over but the screaming and running about in panic.

Mexico City PollutionThere is no question that humanity, like all other creatures on earth, affect their environment. We build buildings, heat our homes, dig up coal, cut down trees, lay down highways, and so on. In this process, like trees giving off oxygen and beavers building dams, we affect the world around us. Pollution is visibly evident in the atmosphere around big cities, you can see them from a distance. Some areas are so bad that they cause respiratory problems. Some are pristine and pleasant to live in.

The question is how much does this affect the world and how much are we impacting the climate? To answer this, the first thing we have to understand is how big the Earth is. This is a bit difficult to comprehend because of the vast size and lack of things to compare it to. The human mind best understands things relative to others: Bob doesn't look so tall until Mary stands next to him and only comes up to his chest. So measurements like 24,901.55 miles around with a surface of 197,000,000 square miles and 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg weight don't really mean very much on their own. The fact that the atmosphere alone weighs 1.16 x 10^19 pounds or around 6 million billion tons is impressive but difficult to really understand.

If you pick up a cue ball from a pool table (be sure no one is playing that table first), you can see that it's very smooth, almost glassy with a nice reflection off it. If you were big enough to pick up the earth the same way, it would be
even smoother because the highest mountain and lowest trench in the ocean are smaller in variation than the surface of a cue ball. Sure, the cue ball is smooth, but when you zoom in with a microscope, it looks like the badlands. As we know, mountains are enormous, the ocean is terrifyingly deep with crushing pressures at the bottom. Yet these variations are actually not very large compared to the entire mass of the planet. That gives you one idea of how very vast the Earth really is.

If you walked around the equator, assuming you could walk, Christ-like, on the water, it would take you about 345 days to get back to where you started. Without stopping or slowing, at an average human walking speed of 3 miles an hour.

With these ideas in mind, think about human pollution a bit.

Humanity produces a lot of pollution, but relative to the size of the planet and the total of the atmosphere it actually is a very tiny amount. Below you can see how this relates to the main concern of climate change: CO2. Our impact on the planet can be significant, nearby heavy concentrations of humanity, but when you get away from those areas, you notice a change. twenty miles into rural areas from the biggest city on earth and the pollution is just not there, even if the wind blows toward that part of the world, it's greatly diluted by the bulk of the atmosphere.

This isn't unreasonable if you think about it, stand near a girl wearing perfume, you can pick it up, right? Move a few feet away, not so much. Outside of about 10-2o feet (depending if she's a teenager who bathed in the stuff), you can't pick it up at all unless the wind is blowing directly at you. Why? Because there's so much volume of air compared to the particulates that make up the smell of perfume it has dispersed and is undetectable by humanity. This is a small scale version of what happens to cities.

There's solid evidence that the world warmed up about 1 1/2 degrees Celsius in the last 100 years. The assumption is that industrialization has caused this, that increased greenhouse gasses are trapping more heat in the atmosphere and making the planet warmer overall.

The problem this runs into is that in the past there have been warming periods as well, much warmer than at present. Last week I pointed out that scientists (and anecdotal evidence) tell us that the temperature has spiked and dropped in history, such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Roman Warm period.

If human activity caused this warming which isn't as bad as the previous periods, what caused the previous raises in temperature? Humanity probably is contributing to the warming, to some degree, but by how much? That leads to the next question.

Q: What about all that CO2 in the atmosphere?
Short answer: the ocean is the primary cause

The levels of CO2 in earth's atmosphere, as best can be understood by present science, appears to be higher than it has been for some considerable time. Some scientists claim that it is the most in 650,000 years. Others disagree, and the problem is it's difficult to be exactly confident based on ice core estimates.

Now for some math. Bear with me, it will be quick and relatively painless:

BreathScientists estimate that humanity produces 12,127,700,000 metric tons of CO2 a year at present, compared to an estimated 1,190,480,000 metric tons a year in past centuries. Scientists also believe that each acre of forest can absorb and eliminate 1.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. Given that there are an estimated 9,884,215,240 acres of forest on the planet, that means 15,814,744,384 metric tons are absorbed by forests alone. Add to that the approximately 50,000,000,000 metric tons of CO2 the plankton absorb and the rest of the plant matter on earth (moss, grass, shrubs, bushes, flowers etc) and you have over 70 billion tons of the earth's CO2 being absorbed of 12 billion humans produce.

In other words, the earth's plant matter comfortably and easily absorbs the total of human emissions and have plenty to spare.

“This is one of the grand unsolved puzzles in climate research,”
-Thomas Stocker, a climate modeler at University of Bern

So there's something wrong here: CO2 levels are increasing, according to science. Well, there are other sources of CO2 production as well:
  • Volcanos alone produce an estimated 500,000,000 tons of CO2 a year, which goes up significantly when an eruption occurs ( scientists believe between May and October of 1980, Mt St Helens alone produced about 100,000,000,000 tons - more than all humanity combined for a full year).
  • Rotting matter produces CO2,
  • animals produce CO2 just like humans as they breathe. The UN estimates that up to 20% of the CO2 is produced by farm animals.
  • Certain effects such as the Arctic areas which warm to release trapped CO2 also increase the total.
  • And the ocean is a factor.
Yes, the ocean releases CO2, it is a titanic battery of sorts, storing CO2 when it is cooler and releasing it when it is warmer. Take a look at this chart comparing CO2 levels with global temperatures.
As you can see, as the temperature goes up worldwide, the CO2 levels go up worldwide. There is, in fact, a slight lag of 50 or so years between the temperature gain and CO2 increase. Why is this? Because the ocean's enormous storage of this greenhouse gas takes time to release. Because the oceans are so very large and deep, they take a long time to warm up significantly and thus release more gas. Oceans cover 3/4 of the earth's surface and are the primary weather-causing and weather-controlling agent other than the atmosphere its self - and much of how the atmosphere behaves is because of the oceans.

Some dismiss this offhand, such as the global warming site RealClimate, who points out that the oceans absorb CO2. They do, and to what degree no one is sure, so I didn't add that to the information above with the trees. The thing is, oceans also release CO2 that has been absorbed, and as temperatures rise, the release increases relative to the absorption.

In past warming periods, scientists estimate that as much as half the increase of carbon dioxide was from oceans. Even the 2001 IPCC report concluded (emphasis mine):
Thus, the terrestrial biosphere does not cause the difference in atmospheric CO2 between glacial and interglacial periods. The cause must lie in the ocean, and indeed the amount of atmospheric change to be accounted for must be augmented to account for a fraction of the carbon transferred between the land and ocean.
In fact, water's ability to absorb and store CO2 reduces the warmer it gets, and thus, the carbon dioxide is released - this is scientifically demonstrated and is actually part of many chemistry textbooks.
When you combine this with news such as this, the picture becomes clearer:
Since 1970, carbon monoxide emissions in the U.S. are down 55%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate emissions are down nearly 80% and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by half. Lead emissions have declined more than 98%.
So we have a big increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, but despite great increases in human production of the gas, the bulk of it in the past has come from the oceans - as much as half, according to scientists - and since the mechanisms of the planet can absorb so much CO2 so easily, the increase seems to be most likely tied to the ocean.

CO2, by the way, comprises about 5% of greenhouse gasses. Water vapor is the biggest culprit by many times over, and it's not rising by very much. Even the scientists who worked on the IPCC report had this to say:
  • It is not clear how much is the actual anthropogenic contribution to a changed radiation budget (again, even the sign of the anthropogenic effect is not known).
  • Even if the anthropogenic radiative forcing was better known, it is theoretically unclear by how much the temperature should have varied in response.
For more on the relation of temperature and CO2, this site has extensive links and information.

Q: So What's causing the warming then, smart guy?
Short answer: the sun, which is the primary cause of warming for all planets in the solar system.

Ol' SolThe reason Earth is warm at all is because of the Sun's constant radiation. Little more than a gigantic nuclear explosion, the sun is so hot that at around 93,000,000 miles (the distance from Earth) it is still so hot it will burn and cook your skin if you are exposed too long. It is so hot that it causes the entire planet to warm by as much as 70 degrees between night and day. It is so hot that it maintains a livable temperature, and is absolutely understood to be the reason for warming on earth.

The question is whether it is an increase in greenhouse gasses which trap the sun's warmth and cause a slow, constant increase in temperature or if it is an increase in solar radiation and heat that causes this increase. Global Warming activists insist it is human-caused CO2 emissions that is the problem. Scientists are beginning to wonder, especially after a study from the Danish National Space Center that showed evidence that the Sun is the primary cause of global warming, and has likely been in the past.

The easy way to answer this is to look outside our solar system orbit. If humanity is causing global warming and not the sun, then Earth would be warming but the other planets ought not to be, at least not at the same time. And that's not what we find. Pluto is warming, the furthest from the sun yet still affected by its raging fires. Venus is warming. Mars is warming. Jupiter is showing signs of warming, as are several of its moons. Even Neptune might be warming, based on recent observation.
"one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything" (when faced with several solutions of equal validity, usually the simplest is the best)
-Occam's Razor
Again, RealClimate tries to dismiss this by giving a list of various reasons why each of these planets, at the same time, is warming while Earth does in a manner independent of the Sun. The attempt is to dismiss the possibility that the sun is causing this. Yet, evidence shows that the sun is influencing warming on the earth and thus should be on the other planets. If they all are warming at once, is it really more reasonable that every single planet is warming at the same time coincidentally from various, unrelated, independent causes? One or two planets I could buy, but nearly the entire solar system, at once? My comments to this end were conveniently deleted from the RealClimate website.

For the last 100 years, the sun has undergone significant increases in coronal activity and fluctuations in its magnetic field. This fluctuation is affecting our magnetic field as well, reducing it. Along with these fluctuations has been an increase in "sun spots" and cosmic ray bombardment of the earth.

There's been an observable relationship between the increase in cosmic rays (taken from meteorite samples) and the temperature of the earth. Basically it works like this: the magnetic field of the Sun partly screens the Solar System from cosmic rays. The greater the magnetic field, the more sunspots will appear on the star. More sunspots means less cosmic rays which means fewer clouds which means warmer temperatures.
Sunspots and TemperatureSunspots seem to appear in cycles, with more then less, and the longer this cycle occurs, the more the planets heated by the sun will warm. The sun, the engine of the entire planet's warming, is the primary cause of global warming and through it the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Human activity is probably significant enough to add to this to some small degree, but it is not the cause of global warming.

For more on this topic, Sciencebits has an excellent article with significantly more information, charts, and links.

Q: What is the practical effect of Global Warming?
Minor so far, not likely to be much in the future; no one can predict very accurately.

Hurricanes caused?Many predictions have been made regarding global warming's likely effects on the planet. One of the more unfortunate and amusing ones was that 2006 would be the "worst storm season on record" as the effects of warming changed the climate and more storms of greater power occurred. This was following up on 2005, which actually was one of the worst on record, with more storms than many years in the past.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that "the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season will be very active with up to 10 hurricanes"

Turned out, of course, that it wasn't. It was one of the mildest on record, and the response? Well, global warming made it milder. This is part of why it's so hard to take many of these predictions seriously: the people who say this kind of thing are trying to have it both ways. It will work out this way because of global warming. It didn't? Well, that's because of global warming. That's not science, that's mysticism, it's impossible to disprove if your pet cause fits all possible explanations.

Increased warming is predicted for each year, but for the last 8 years it's actually been globally slightly cooler, according to the World Meteorological Organization:
The temperature of the last five years in decreasing order are: 1998, 2005, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
See that trend? 2006 continued it, and the prediction for 2007 is that despite El Nino's affect on the climate, it will be cooler this year than 1998 as well. The problem is, this is reported a bit differently. For example, WMO reports those as the "five warmest years" on record. 2006 is reported as the sixth warmest year.

That's technically true, but it's like a home announcer trying to cover up that for six games in a row, the team has scored less by pointing out that these are the top five scoring games ever. Yes, 2006 was the warmest year in the last century or so... but it's cooler than 2005, 2004, 2003, etc... a trend that is continuing. In other words, as the chart I started this essay out with two weeks ago showed: we're cooling.

Global Warming is even by the IPCC's latest report not as bad as expected and the effects that were predicted in the 1990s aren't coming to pass. The truth is the science is too complex for scientists to even predict tomorrow's weather for where you live, let alone what the entire planet will be like in 100 years. Or even 1.
Next week: the questions continue, with more answers, including lists of scientists, the way global warming advocates live, what about those computer models, and what about that weather outside, anyway?

*UPDATE: My calculation on walking around the earth was off by a factor 24: I forgot to divide by hours! Also some minor formatting change and a dumb astronomic mistake Daryl pointed out for me, thanks!

This is part three of a series on Global Warming.
Part One: Science
Part Two: Temperature
Part Three: Questions and Answers B
Part Five: What and Why
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Friday, April 27, 2007


"Young women are being killed of in China?
'Your Planned Parenthood donations at work.'"

Baby Girl
Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has an unusual choice for dangerous technology. No, it's not nuclear weapons, not machine guns, not chemical weapons, no his choice is the sonogram:
The widespread use of sonogram technology--coupled with liberal abortion laws--has made it possible for women to identify the sex of their child so that those without a Y chromosome can be killed before they're even born.
In general, boys are born at a slightly higher rate than girls in a given population - about 105 to 100 on average. This is odd because the world's population is very slightly in favor of girls, possibly because men tend to do more dangerous things such as fighting wars and skydiving. Some nations, however, have a significantly lower rate of girls born than boys, throwing this average off significantly. China in particular is facing this problem.

Boys born
The red lines indicate where the rates should be based on what is naturally, biologically possible. Yet in a number of Chinese provinces--with populations of tens of millions of people--the reported sex ratio at birth ranges from over 120 boys for every 100 girls to over 130 boys for every 100 girls. Eberstadt notes that this is "a phenomenon utterly without natural precedent in human history."

China is not alone in the war against baby girls. In India the ratios are almost as significant. For example, in 2001, 927 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, significantly below the natural birth rate of about 952 girls for every 1,000 boys. By 2004, the New Delhi-based magazine Outlook was reporting that the sex ratios in the capital had plummeted to 818 girls for every 1,000 boys and that in 2005 they had dropped to 814.
This problem, as he points out, even extends to asians in America, where there's no government like China's limiting the number of births to each couple. Commenters discussed this phenomenon:
The Koreans actually centrifuge semen to spin out the female sperm before artificial insemination, insuring a male fetus.
-by reddog

Actually it seems the problem is basically contempt for woman. Joe didn't address this but birth ratios may only now be changing because technology has moved the ability to harm woman from the post-birth stage to the pre-birth and even pre-conception. Female infantacide was and remains very common in the developing world. I wonder if anyone has actually looked at the population gender ratios of these backward areas. Perhaps there has always been a 'male surplus' in those areas of some sort.

If you seriously want to fight it, though, the weapon is advocating women's rights. Only by making women as valuable as men in the everyone's eyes can this pattern be fully reversed.

Absent that there will be an equilibrium, as women become rarer they will become more valuable automatically. This happens in Muslim societies like Saudi Arabia where there is an artificial 'male surplus' caused by polygamy. Since the village's richest man can afford to marry 4 wives there are fewer women left for all the other men. In those societies the custom is for the man to pay the bride's family a dowery to marry their daughter. You may recall in old fashioned Western society the dowery is reversed...coming from the bride's family.
Sounds like they need some gay marriage over there!
For those who argue that there can be no evolutionary explanation for homosexuality. A population group that has a small percentage of homosexuals or bisexuals can afford to have a bit more males than females without as much of a 'surplus male' problem thereby giving it the ability to mount a larger army.
Now consider the fact that the number of males fit for military service (ages 18-49) in the U.S. is currently and remains steady at 54 million
Several things work in the US's favor:

1. Population is a very poor determinate of military might. The only exception I can imagine is if two countries are just about equal economically. If population was that important it would have been China and India that would have been the two most aggressive countries in WWII rather than Japan & Germany. Instead China was whipped badly by Japan & India was being ruled by Great Britain which had barely a fraction of India's population.

2. Since population isn't the trick to military might a strong, growing and innovative economy probably is. The primary result of a 'surplus male problem' is unruley communities where young men have less reason to avoid trouble. China's economic growth is probably great enough to overcome this gender gap problem but it would act as a drag to its economy.

2. a. Gone are the days when raising an army meant going down to bars, crime districts and whatnot and simply grabbing every male dreg you see and putting a spear in his hand. Modern armies are high-skilled endeavors and need balanced, stable and well educated men and women. A hoard of male juvienille delinquients with attitude problems is not the ideal pool to draw an effective army anymore.

3. The 'hoard' of unmarried men would indeed be a problem if they all were in a single place but they almost certainly won't be. Markets will kick in and you'll probably find lots of men going abroad to get married or leaving the more backward provinces for urban areas where women would be more valued and therefore more available.

I'm not going to say this process is going to be smooth. I think Joe is right that China is in for some problems but I don't think they are going to spill out into the International stage because of this. I think they will be mostly internal and managable.
-by Boonton

Fewer females = fewer babies = decline in worldwide population... which I'm just not seeing as a bad thing, actually.

Plus, sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and all that.
-by carlaviii

Fewer females = fewer babies = fewer people to fund Social Security, Medicare, etc. Must be nice to be so wealthy or so old that you don't have to worry about things like that. But on the plus side, it puts a positive spin on things like the VT massacre, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the genocide in Darfur. They result in a "decline in the worldwide population" too, so I guess you don't view those as "bad thing(s)" either.

Hmmm, well people in China don't fund social security no matter how many babies they have. Regardless, I tend to agree with you that scares about overpopulation are overblown and generally more people means more prosperity when individual freedom is respected.
-by Boonton

Islam (i.e. Arab Tribal Culture) has long had the problem of surplus males; since their alpha males sew up most of the available females for their harems, they haven't had enough females to go around for a LONG time.

Their solution: JIHAD! Kill the Infidel men and take their women for your harem! God Wills It!

Thus the beta males can get their own harems of females, just like the alpha males. Plus the casualty rate of the resulting raid-and-pillage economy keeps the number of surplus males down to a manageable number.
-by Ken

I've been reading and wondering about the use of sonograms and abortion to gender select in China for over 10 years now after reading a story about it in a newspaper. In fact it was one of the intial bits of information that made me re-evaluate my pro-choice beliefs and send me down the road to the anti-abortion stance I hold today. Part of it was that prior to that time it simply never occured to me that someone would use abortion for such a purpose.

As a side issue to the topic, it appears that even when girl babies are allowed to come to term, they are often given up for adoption to foreign parents.
-by Patrick

Several thousand Chinese girls are adopted out each year to Western countries. I don't know the exact figures, but I think the totals in the U.S. for Chinese born girls adopted in the last 15 years is over 15,000. China has now set stricter limits on who can adopt because...well, they are now seeing the slight value of orphaned girls within their borders.

I predict that as many Asian men as economically possible will seek brides from other countries and nationalities. Mail-order brides to China...start your match-making business now!
-by Anna

The number of children, mostly girls, adopted out of China to the U.S. in the last five years is over 33,000. This represents a small percentage of the population of China and doesn't even come close to making a dent in the disparity between the number of boys and the number of girls there.
-by Ray
Boonton's attempt to say that evolutionary forces favor the society with a bigger army is amusing, but it is difficult to explain why on earth homosexuality persists if evolution's processes are inevitable and constant, so you have to forgive that kind of speculation.

The problem faced here is that Chinese culture favors large families and the government has an economic system that cannot support the population it has right now, despite the vast size of China and its resources. Instead of making the changes to the economic system that will allow it to support a greater population, Chinese communist dictators are trying to plan the lives of its subjects down to the number of children they can bear. Since Chinese culture and agricultural reality favors boys over girls, the Sonogram allows these families to end a girl's life before she's born - saving the trouble of doing it afterward.

Sadly, the best way to end this is not eliminating sonograms or changing Chinese ideals of women - although they could change for the better. It's to have China be a free, prosperous nation with an economy that can support these births and a society that tends to have fewer children.

The richer and less agrarian a society is, the fewer children it tends to have. In many countries in the west, for instance, the birth rate is actually lower than the death rate, resulting in the people dying off slowly, the population reducing. Except, for example, Muslim families who are having children at a rate of up to three times as fast as their countrymen in places like France. In 20 years that's going to be a rather impressive shift in demographics.

One of the things besides famine and plague that kept populations down in the past was war. It was an effective way of eliminating surplus population - and one that makes people nervous when they look at China. After a certain point, having a war with someone that is very costly in terms of human life might start to look attractive to the Chinese government.
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"Round up the usual suspects"

What are your favorite Movie Lines? Some are great, but not much use out of context, like the hapless Delmar in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? ending this exchange:
Wait a minute! Who elected you leader a this outfit?

Well, Pete, I just figured it should be the one with capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain't the consensus view, hell, let's put her to a vote!

Suits me! I'm votin' for yours truly!

Well I'm votin' for yours truly too!

Well, I'm with you fellers.
Some lines are so memorable they become part of the language of idiom, people will use them and everyone will know what that means, even if it is a bit obscure (such as "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men) Premier Magazine has compiled what they consider the top 100 movie lines, starting at 100 with "I see dead people" from The Sixth Sense. Others include:
95. "I'll be back" (Terminator)
83. "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way." (
Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
73. "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen." (
Say Anything)
65. "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." (
59. "Gentleman, you can't fight here! This is the war room!" (
Dr Strangelove)
43. "You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle." (
Duck Soup)
30. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." (
26. "Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!" (
Dr Strangelove)
19. "Well, there's something you don't see every day." (
What were the top ten choices and the number one line? You'll have to take a look, but I think it was a great choice for number one. Some movies like Dr Strangelove, Caddyshack ("that's the ugliest hat I've ever seen... oh, but it looks good on you, though."), and Casablanca are packed with quotes, just wall to wall memorable lines, like this from Casablanca:
And I said I would never leave you.

And you never will. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to to you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
Rick Blaine, tough guy extraordinaire, a man so self-focused he said earlier "I stick my neck out for nobody" and meant it. This line shows how much he's changed by the example of the heroic and selfless Victor Laszlo and the beautiful, torn Ilsa Lund. He's giving up the one woman he truly loved to go and face danger and probable death for a cause he recognizes is greater than himself.

Some movies are like that: they move you as much as they do the pictures, and have lines and ideas in them so profound or funny or memorable they become part of the national conscience. Books used to be that way - the Bible particularly (many, many quotes and titles of books, plays, and movies are from the Bible such as Grapes of Wrath). I just hope we haven't lost that by adding movies to this process.
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“We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Many an oppressed politician, businessmen and indicted personage has responded to the media with these two words: "no comment." To avoid causing themselves trouble or giving their enemies ammunition, these folks don't have anything they would like to say to the media. Now newspapers are trying to decide if they want to have comments:
Faced with declining circulation, many U.S. newspapers are trying to engage readers by allowing them to respond to news stories online. But the anonymity of the Internet lets readers post obscenities and racist hate speech that would never be allowed in the printed paper.
And it is true, this sort of thing can show up in comments, and the more public and outrageous such a thing would be, the more likely they will show up. The person posting it might be no racist at all, they might be decent people face to face, but anonymity and the chance to "pwn" or "punk" the newspaper can be too much temptation for some to resist. This is something a newspaper would wisely want to avoid. At the same time, a desire to attract readers and get the instant input that the Internet provides is a consideration:
Sree Sreenivasan, director of the New Media program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said the benefits of reader participation outweigh the negatives.

"Lots of people want to take action when they read a story," he said. "In the old days if you were upset about something, you could tell one person at the water cooler. Now you can forward it to 100 friends and say, 'We need to do something.'"
LaShawn Barber asks the same question that occurred to me the instant I read this:
First, how does allowing comments on stories posted online help with print circulation? With a few exceptions, newspaper web sites allow free access to all stories (though they may require free registration). I don’t see the connection. Regarding online ad revenue, I don’t think allowing comments on stories necessarily increases online newspaper readership.
Miss Barber is of the opinion that probably the best way to handle this is to start a blog up related to the newspaper (something many have already done, which I take advantage of regularly) and have someone moderate comments there. Commenters at LaShawn Barber's site discussed this story:
Seems that newspapers are frantically trying to cling to life, after having done all they can to cause their own death.

I stopped paying for the local paper some years ago, due to the hollow and unprofessional reporting, the left-wing bias, and the fact that the paper boy insisted upon delivering the rag to the deepest puddle on the driveway.

Newspapers, as relevant sources for information, are almost extinct. So are buggy whips. The difference is that buggy whip manufacturers understand this, and newspaper publishers don’t.

Blog comments, anonymous or not, are not much less relevant than the carefully screened letters to the editor. Newspapers with an agenda (are there any without?) will skew the letters to the editor by publishing more that favor the paper’s editorial position, and even deliberately publishing semi-illiterate letters which reflect poorly upon those in opposition to the paper’s editorial board.

Speaking of anonymity, how about the editorial boards which offer up commentaries with no attribution whatever? I’ve argued this with our local paper in the past. I was required to give my full name, street address, and valid local phone number in order to qualify for inclusion. But the editorial to which I was responding never had anyone’s name attached, not even the names of the shadowy editorial board, whatever that was.

My alias here is simply a reflection of my desire to avoid the nut bags like the one who once tracked me down after a letter to the editor was published, and called my house. My wife answered, and he scared her half to death, threatening all sorts of mayhem if I didn’t stop insulting his hero, Teddy Kennedy. That’s the truth. I’m not really a covert CIA operative, or a former member of Tony Soprano’s crew, now in the witness protection program.
-by RedBeard

My hometown weekly allows people to call in comments, and they’re pirnted on their own page.

Of course, I’m sure they don’t print EVERY comment, but they are still anonymous.

Next to the police log and the obituaries, it’s probably the most popular part of the paper.
-by Julie the Jarhead

Hi, LaShawn. I read your blog at least three times a week, as time allows, and always enjoy your comments. I’m a 52 yoa, white, Christian, married 30 years, living in the inland West…Columbia basin. I’m a retired prosecutor, so I guess you’d call me educated!

My husband and I quit taking our local paper a year ago for the same reasons (except our paperboy was great) as Redbeard. However, after reading your blog entry “Newspapers Agonize Over Allowing Comments” I’m wondering if I shouldn’t rethink my position.

I don’t think it’s in the best interest of America to have our newspapers die out. Admittedly, newspapers fall alarmingly short of the ideal; but so do all human institutions. Newspapers now are not fallen from some previous standard of perfection. Think back to William Randolph Hearst, yellow journalism, etc. Newspapers historically have been variously aligned and proponents of political parties and political positions, and full of bad, biased reporting. It was the very proliferation of their various accounts that provided overall coverage of the facts. As a lawyer, I’m comfortable with the idea that an adversarial system, with each party promoting their own evidence, arrives at truth.

What’s different now? Now there is no national conservative newspaper; no rival for the New York Times “paper of record” designation. Why is this? Are we conservatives unwilling to put our money up? Or is it that the reporting entitities, mainstream media for lack of a better word, has become so overwhelmingly leftist and so bitterly vicious to other points of view that conservative media can’t compete? As much as I enjoy the blogosphere, and its many various forms, I believe there is a need for newspapers and a truly national source for news and comment in the “standard” journalists’ method.

I’m thinking now that I need to find a conservative newspaper and SUBSCRIBE. Pay my money down and support a MSM conservative paper. My father-in-law takes the Conservative Chronicle, and maybe I’ll choose it. Any ideas, LaShawn?
-by Mrs. Former Prosecutor

Comments offer a way for feedback to newspaper reporters. As a conservative and military veteran working as an editor (small e) at a large paper in a Red state, I try every way I can to help my paper be more sensitive and responsive to the perspectives of our potential readers. That’s especially important when most of the newsroom staff is far left of our readership base.

Twenty years ago the late Knight-Ridder chain launched Viewtron, the first online interactive news service. It’s most popular feature was the ability to interact with other readers about story content. Viewtron lasted only a few years. Unfortunately KR missed the point — terminally. The remnants of Knight Ridder and most newspapers still have a high level of disregard for their contrary readers (or ex-readers) but comment pages offer an opportunity for disaffected readers to have their say and collectively make a difference.

Newspapers do offer one of the best hopes for sustaining the open discussion that sustains our liberties, but only if informed citizens engage in the discussion and help newspapers come back from the left.
-by Paul

Newspapers sell ads to survive. If their readership is small, their ad revenue is small. They have not yet figured out how to get readership up so they can get their ad revenue up.

Hint: Try reporting the old fashioned way of covering the who, what, where, when and how. But reporters and their editors are consumed with “why” and “solution” reporting, which is essentially political view commentary masquerading as “just presenting the facts.”

Blogs are opinion experiences. It is very important that the blog princess has a high set of standards which she rigidly enforces. Most important to me are the blogs that include interaction between the commentators. I learn a great deal from the highly articulate and thoughtful individuals I encounter on LBC.

I used my name on another site and I got Googled and harassed by nasty phone calls. I may be dreaming, but it seems that liberal nut-jobs are particularly profane and unpleasant. Of course, I don’t have experience with conservatives harassing me for my views.

I have had many letters to the editor published in the Washington Post over the years, and every one of them was heavily edited. You agree to the editing, but you have no say in the finished product.

Newspapers and news weeklies are going to have to figure out a new plan of presentation if they are to survive. We really do need some enterprise to fund the very expensive business of gathering the news. LBC largely depends on the reporting efforts of others. While the internet has some terrific original reporting, nearly every blog on the net is a low budget operation compared to the large newspapers and news magazines.

Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin, Captain’s Quarters, LaShawn Barber’s Corner, Instapundit, Power Line and others have applied pressure to the MSM in ways that are beginning to make the old dinosaur press take notice. The more difference the competent blog sites make, the more howling and smearing you see on Huffington, KOS, and their ilk.

I am amazed at the stuff that commenters make on the WaPo blog site. But I think it serves a good purpose to let the public see the stupid remarks and the nastiness of some people. Mostly, I think the WaPo can grow and learn from a sounding board that is not necessarily populated by members of their comfort group. I think this is particularly important for local newspapers where the weekly give-aways are eating their lunch.
-by Heliotrope

To answer Tom Bosee’s question, the editorials are unsigned because it’s supposed to seen as representing the paper as a whole–so you wouldn’t sign all the names on the masthead, just calling it an editorial is supposed to be enough. This is usually a quick and simple way of learning the paper’s bias.

In regards to LaShawn’s point, the comments are really not where it’s at, the linking is. I hesitate to blame age, because even my grandma has a computer, but it seems like the editors just don’t get the internet. I am only interested in reading the paper online if it’s from out of town/country, and I therefore can’t get it conveniently. If it’s my hometown paper, I want them to differentiate themselves enough from the dead tree version a coworker brings in. That means, don’t characterize the mayor’s speech, link to a streamed version of it so I can hear it for myself. Don’t tell me what the study said, put it in a PDF or something and let me see it. Then you interview whoever did the study and flesh out the details. If they did that, I’d be interested in the comments, but they don’t do that. So if I’m ignoring the dead tree edition, what’s my incentive to read the electronic one when it’s just a digitized version of the one I ignored in the first place?
-by Tyrian Purple

Do you want to know what’s killing newspapers? I’ll tell ya. Journalism School.

I was the only non-J-school staffer on my college newspaper. J schools don’t exactly attract rocket scientists, and post-Watergate, they tended to attract the not-too-bright-but-idealistic.

Grads go to work and are never accountable for anything more consequential than making deadline. They don’t have to meet sales quotas. They don’t have to make payroll. They risk nothing all their lives.

They certainly aren’t going to risk crossing over to the Internet where suddenly they’d be up against lawyers, professors, scientists and other enterprising people, people who have the advantage 1) of real-world experience and 2) not having taken the classes where you learn to write only in shades of gray.
-by Charlie

Forty plus years ago, I went to work as a reporter for a Richmond, Virginia newspaper edited by the great James Kilpatrick. I wrote some copy about a cake that was a replica of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

My copy made it past the picky ladies in the proof room, but Kilpatrick caught it before it went to press. He called me to his carpeted office (as in being called on the carpet) where he asked me just exactly how the cake qualified as a replica.

I stuttered around until he pointed to the dictionary stand and clearly signaled that I should look up the word. “Replica: an exact reproduction made by the creator of the original.”

That kind of editorial attention would never have permitted what passes for journalism today.

So far as I can ascertain, there are no great newspaper editors remaining. That is a true pity, but it is predictable, since editorial boards are mostly an inner sanctum click of like-minded, pompous J-school doyens.
-by Heliotrope

Newspapers have fouled up in two ways. “Bias” exists, but it’s a secondary effect that makes the foulups worse.

The lesser of the two errors is that they have essentially abandoned “who, what, when, and where” in favor of “why”. That comes partly from hubris, yes, but even more so from economic considerations. Opinion is cheap compared to keeping a decent reporter–someone who can and does dig for the first four “W”s–in the field. Unfortunately for them, opinion is also a buyer’s market, and that’s what really hurts about the Internet. Paying a Krugman six figures is just a loss when you can get umpteen similar opinions for free.

But the worst error, the one that’s really killing them, is “if it bleeds it leads.” They note that when something startling or amazing comes up, they get more readers. From this they conclude that the only way to do “news” is to continually startle and amaze the readers. Part of the problem with that is habituation — it turns into a loser’s game of “top this if you can!” — but more importantly, it turns the sophisticated readers off. If the movers and shakers read your paper other people will go along in the hope that some of the status will rub off. If nobody’s reading except the mouth-breathers who get all excited about J-Lo’s boyfriends, the sophisticated are run off twice, once by the content and once by the association.

Bias makes it worse by cutting the remaining audience in half, but the other two effects are primary. If they fixed those the bias would repair itself.
-by Ric Locke

Heliotrope’s anecdote reminded me of the legendary one about some editor being quick enough to catch an error in the E=mc^2 equation from some reporter.

If I were in charge of reforming journalism, I would do away with the j-school degree. It’s a ridiculous idea. I took the classes, and learned nothing there that I would not have learned in the newsroom or in the field.

Instead I think to work a “beat,” the reporter should be able to demonstrate subject-matter expertise. Or at least have a working knowledge of the area they’re covering–and prove themselves willing to become more knowledgeable.

For example, no reporter who doesn’t know the scientific method should be permitted to cover science stories. That reporter won’t know what questions to ask, or could get taken in by a “cold fusion” type scam, or might get the facts but garble them in the transmission to the reader (confuse fission vs. fusion or theory vs. hypothesis for instance).

I had thought my idea was how it worked in practice, so I figured out what beats interested me and decided to take classes towards understanding the fundamentals: criminal justice classes in case I had to write about crime and cops, foreign language classes, tech classes to write about computers and so on. Well rounded liberal arts with an emphasis on certain subjects that would help me cover preferred beats.

It turned out that reporters could go report on a country without being expected to know the language or the culture.

A military man complained to the Washington Times recently about their reporter confusing ranks and their abbreviations–a few years ago it never would have occurred to me that a reporter who didn’t know those details could get assigned stories about the military. Don’t I feel naive!

This looks like a top down problem: if the editor doesn’t know anything, they can’t pull a James Kilpatrick (in one class we would read reprints of his columns; very educational). If they can’t emulate him, I don’t foresee a bright future for them.
-by Tyrian Purple

Benjamin Franklin had a lot of competitors when he owned and ran his newspaper in Philadelphia, but was still very successful doing so. His paper of the day, was not biased in anyway, he knew he could not alienate any readers by taking either side on any issues. As a result, everyone read his paper over others.

Pinch and the other MSM boys just don’t understand this very simple point. It appears they would rather die trying to influence our thinking….then applying the Benjamin Franklin business model.
-by Matt Smith
Several commenters and LaShawn Barber brought up the idea that commenters add nothing to the story and while potentially interesting are not really very useful. Miss Barber acurately points out that many major blogs do not have a comment section at all. The thing is, if you read the comments on this story you will get an inkling why comments are more useful than people give them credit. Several former newspapermen reported on their experiences and the flaws with modern reporting. Historians pointed out information from the past that was not in the initial story or LaShawn Barber's commentary. Several people gave personal testimony of how they have changed regarding newspapers and why they don't read them any more.

This is the thing that comments brings to an online site, it gives feedback to the story "this sucked, this was great etc" but more importantly it brings a greater range of information and analysis to the story that the reporter missed, got edited out, or didn't consider. No one person can do exhaustive work on a subject, at least not in a reasonable time frame. But comments can expand that usefully and materially for readers.

In this sense, I do understand why commenting might be good for newspapers, but I wonder if that's what they are considering. Typically, online stuff is dismissed as inferior nonsense by major news organizations. Bloggers are mocked for being in their pj's in mom's basement typing their little Unabomber-type screeds by the legacy media. And there certainly are these types, some have gotten rather large online.

Circulation DropThe thing is, newspapers are facing a crisis. Their circulation is almost uniformly dropping (a few, like the New York Post are doing better), their advertising revenues plunging, and their impact and significance are waning. Television news is doing no better, ratings, other than for the Fox News Channel, are dropping. So newspapers are trying to attract new readers. The comments and online site idea, I suppose, is an attempt to generate reader loyalty, or at least familiarity, so if people want the full story, they buy the Yourtown Gazette and Profiteer.

The problem is, there's not much reason to buy a newspaper for the full story. True, it makes a handy birdcage liner, and I use the pages to light the wood stove and the barbecue (with this handy chimney-like device). But by the time a newspaper comes out, the news is old. Not only has radio and TV covered the news (television to a dreary excess) but the Internet has had the story in 17 languages, with a dozen different opinion columns and hundreds of blogs giving even greater details - and at many of those blogs, commenters who add to the information and throw you links for more and related details. Newspapers are slow. They offer the same information you can get for dirt cheap on the internet (pennies a day) with moving pictures, sound, analysis, and within moments of the event's occurrence.

One of the biggest advantages that the Internet has over a newspaper is linking, a point brought up by LaShawn Barber and several commenters. Online, a related story or more information about a given person or place is one mouseclick away. Dump it in a browser tab and check it later. Newspapers cannot offer that, the closest they'll have is continuing a story on page C5. This ready and expanded information is very attractive, it generates increased interest, and stories can end up linking step by step to something totally different but just as interesting or entertaining.

The fact is, in the past, network news and newspapers/magazines had no competition. They were the only way to get the information for almost everyone. The fact that they almost all reported each story in almost always the same way, with the same tilt was frustrating but unavoidable - and even sometimes undetectable. Bias is only visible if you have the other side of the issue, and if you never see the other side, it just looks like fact. Leaving off troubling information, another viewpoint, or a quote from someone else who disagrees can give the impression that there is no troubling information, different viewpoint, or disagreement. Now there's the competition to show this off - the other viewpoints are everywhere, the dissent is unstoppable, the additional information you'd rather not cover is readily available. The Internet gives a voice to things the legacy media used to be able to simply stifle or ignroe.

Newspapers suffer in this comparison. And the suffering just gets worse. Even people who don't have an Internet connection are moving away from the legacy media. There are several reasons, but the main one is problematic reporting. As commenters noted above, reporters are often baldly ignorant about topics and report them in shoddy ways (the Virginia Tech reporting recently is a classic example). The haste to get the story out first makes mistakes more common, rumors more relied on, and the story suffers. Add to that the tendency of reporting - which has always been tilted one way or another - to have become more advocacy than informative and the problem is compounded.

It's one thing to read about a tax cut, its another to read about how that tax cut is hurting the poor and minorities, and how rich are laughing at you in what is supposed to be an ordinary newspaper report, not opinion piece. The use of selective quotes and the proper "man on the street" interview - and especially polls - to drive an agenda or opinion on the front page is wearying for everyone. It can still be effective, just look at general opinion on how well Iraq is doing because they don't read Iraqis and reporters like Michael Totten, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth of readers.

The generation who came home and fired up the evening news first thing every night is moving on, the ones that came after them either don't care about the news or get it from other sources. Newspapers are in trouble because of these and other reasons, and online versions aren't helping them much. All they do is allow people to get a piece of the story without paying.

Even required registration is easy to bypass and charging for registration is a guaranteed way to have people simply avoid your site entirely. The information is out there, somewhere, and if it's not it will be soon. Putting comments on a news site does face a problem of trolls and griefers. Paying someone to spend their day moderating and editing the comments makes your paper more expensive, when advertising revenues are down and staff is being cut already.

There are places that can be cut in the newspapers (opinion writers, for example are easy to find and don't need pay, columnists are pointless when you can pick between hundreds of columns written every day on blogs - and use them for free in most cases). The problem is, cutting costs won't address the primary problems that newspapers face. The future of print news is definitely in question, but I see a day coming when the big papers and national print will vanish and internet sites take their place.
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