Liveblogging Germany’s Nuclear Ninnies

As I write this, Der Spiegel is liveblogging the progress of spent nuclear fuel containers from the French reprocessing plant at La Hague to the German waste storage facility at Gorleben.  Germany’s nuclear ninnies have turned the event into low farce.  Activists have planned events all along the way to satisfy the need of even the most narcissistic of the country’s environmental saviors to strike heroic and pious poses, and ostentatious public piety is what Germany’s “environmental” movement is all about.  No matter that the only things these zealots will really accomplish if they succeed is to keep dirty coal plants on line to take the place of the reactors they shut down.  Other than pumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, the particulates and radioactive ash from those coal plants will certainly result in the needless deaths of hundreds of their countrymen.  That will be the reality of ending nuclear power in Germany, but reality means nothing to these people.  They are not in the street to save the environment.  They are in the street to pose as saviors of the environment.  It’s so, so satisfying to ride heroically forth against evil environmental dragons, taking care, of course, to make sure that as many of your fellow citizens as possible can see you in your shining armor, and nuclear energy makes such a perfect evil dragon.  No matter that the evil is imaginary.  They just can’t do without such a wonderful evil dragon.  To take it away would be like taking drugs away from an addict.  So the fake evil dragon must live on, even if it means feeding the real one.  Some examples from Spiegel’s blog of how Germany’s “saviors” are getting their rocks off:

9:15 The 1000 to 1500 activists from Camp Metzingen are attempting to reach the rail line. It’s unclear at the moment whether they’ve reached the lines. The first wave of demonstrators is lying on the ground with streaming eyes. Apparently the police used tear gas to keep them from the rails. Photographers were rudely turned away. (How noble! How heroic!)

9:35 Water cannons have been brought up along the rail line and are being used against those who are trying to damage the rail bed.

10:45 (Peaceful) Demonstrators have doused an armored police vehicle with tar and set it on fire.

1:02 PM “We don’t want violence (!!) but rather a debate (yeah, right) about ending nuclear power, and appeal to the police to renounce the use of force,” said Wolfgang Emke, a spokesman for a citizen’s group from Luchow-Dannenberg.

…and so the sorry charade goes on.  People like this will never listen to reason, because it would require them to give up the illusion that they are noble saviors of mankind.  Outside of that illusion, many of them have no life.  The evil dragon must remain evil, or the whole, rotten facade that supports their sense of self-worth will collapse.  That’s the reality of the “environmental” movement, not just in Germany, but in any other country one could name.  They’re just one more manifestation of what H. L. Mencken used to call the “Uplift.”   Those who are being asked to make real sacrifices to humor these people are getting increasingly tired of playing along.  They are starting to strike back with an ideological narrative of their own, and don’t mind being called names by their enemies.  They have heard the zealots on the other side yell “wolf” too many times.  The problem is that, with six billion plus of us on the planet already, as our population relentlessly increases, the real wolf (or more likely, wolves) will surely come.  When they do, all the heroic posing in the world won’t stop them.

Update from Germany

What is it about Germans?  Somehow I get the feeling that many of them would still complain if they were hung with a new rope.  The German economy is booming.  Unemployment has never been lower since 1992.  There are currently over 400,000 unfilled job openings in the country, and a shortage of workers, not jobs.  According to recent projections, the number of unemployed will drop from just under 3 million now to about 2 million in 2012.  The economy is currently expanding at a robust 3.4% per year, and Germany leads western industrialized countries in the speed of its recovery from the recession.  In spite of it all, the country isn’t exactly “dizzy with success.”  It seems that the Germans, or at least the German media, can see a dark cloud behind every silver lining. 

The news magazine Focus, for example, agonizes about the “Dangerous Attraction of Prosperity,” in an article warning about increased government debt, in spite of tax receipts in excess of the rosiest projections, and a deficit in the noise compared to that of the United States.   In another article entitled “Five Risks to Prosperity,” we learn that, “A cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the good prognoses.  Experts don’t trust the good signals.”

Der Spiegel, too, focuses on the negative.  In an article entitled, “Capitol City of the Unemployed,”  it describes the situation in the city of Demmin, passing on the lugubrious news that “Nowhere is unemployment so high as in the district in the northwest of the republic…  Those who can leave for the West, and those who stay experience the daily deterioration.”  The “pulse” of the city is “beating ever more slowly.”  Another Spiegel article highlights the visit of none other than our own Paul Krugman.  Under the headline “Crisis Oracle Krugman Fulminates against the Germans,” the Nobel laureate is quoted warning the Germans that “the crisis isn’t close to over.”  He condemns all the talk about a recovery, suggests that demand for German exports will soon collapse, and internal consumption is too low, and hints darkly about renewed pressure on the Euro.

Not to be outdone, the magazine Stern begins an article about the unexpectedly robust German economic expansion reflected in the latest figures with the counterintuitive headline, “The Recovery Weakens,” because projected growth in 2011 is somewhat less.   In a word, to say that the Germans aren’t cocky about their recovery is an understatement.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder:  It’s all about me

In spite of all that, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder knows a good thing when he sees it.  In keeping with the old saying, “Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan,“ he is claiming that he should be credited with the current recovery, because “it’s a result of his policies.“  In an interview for a local newspaper, he suggests that, “(Chancellor) Angela Merkel should be thankful to him for his reforms.“  No doubt tears of gratitude are falling down her cheeks.  One can understand his glee, given the less happy fate of George W. Bush, who continues in the role of scapegoat of choice for all the failings of the Obama administration.

 German Greenpeace:  Fighting Global Warming with Coal

Meanwhile, even as German coal-fired power plants belch millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and more are planned in the immediate future, German activists posing as “environmentalists” have occupied the roof of the headquarters of the center-right Christian Democrat party in what Der Spiegel calls a “spectacular action” to protest the party’s support for nuclear power.  Never mind that coal represents a significantly greater radioactive hazard than nuclear power, without even taking into account the tens of thousands that die each year from breathing the particulates from coal-fired plants, or the fact that such plants contribute mightily to global warming, which these same “environmentalists” have claimed is the number one threat facing the planet.  So powerful is the craving of these activists to strike pious poses as noble saviors of humanity that they’re incapable of even making the connection.  In their fevered imaginations, the nuclear plants they propose to shut down will all be replaced by non-polluting (and non-existent) “green” energy sources.  It’s very simple, really.  There are still coal plants in Germany, and there will continue to be coal plants in Germany into the indefinite future.  Each nuclear plant that is built or remains in operation can replace the need for a coal plant of comparable size.  Therefore, what the German “environmentalists” are really doing by opposing nuclear is promoting the continued burning of coal.  As usual,  the pose is everything and the reality is nothing.

Der Spiegel’s Denatured News

The editors of Der Spiegel have never been behindhand when it comes to peddling anti-American hate.  Among the first to discover how lucrative it could be in Germany following the demise of Communism, they began publishing quasi-racist diatribes against Amerika that would have made Walter Ulbricht blush. Occasionally their website would be so saturated with such stuff that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  Germans lapped it up.  It was a case study in the sort of tribalism their brilliant countryman, Konrad Lorenz, tried to warn them about, but, like the rest of the world, they weren’t listening.  One would think that, given their history in the 20th century, they, of all people, might have learned that hatred of outgroups is a bad thing.  Apparently all they did learn is that, if you happen to hate Jews, you should keep it under your hat, but open hatred of Americans is OK.

Eventually a few German blogs began pushing back, and increasing numbers of Americans began to notice. The editors realized they couldn’t keep it up without losing “respectability,” even among other journalists. As a result, blatant anti-Americanism in Der Spiegel had become a shadow of its former self by the final years of the Bush Administration. Occasionally it still leaks out around the edges, though. Of course, racists love their stereotypes, and one of Der Spiegel’s all time favorites is that Americans are “prudish.” Trust me, we could all be screwing in the streets, and they would still describe us as “prudish.” Sure enough, the meme turned up again in an article about Masters and Johnson a few days ago. The byline reads, “The prudish Americans were once enlightened by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. A biography exposes the shocking life of the couple.”

Of course, the editors of Der Spiegel are nothing if not “professional.” They have a finely tuned sense of nuance, and realize that the level of scorn that Germans expect to find in “objective news” about anything foreign just wouldn’t do in pieces written for non-German audiences. A nice example of the sort of “nuance” I’m talking about turned up in a recent article about the victory of Christine O’Donnell in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware. Here’s the English version, and here’s the German.  The biggest “nuance” in the German version was (you guessed it), the care taken to feed German confirmation bias about “American prudishness.” It’s all about this crazy woman who has a hangup with masturbation.  According to the byline, “She once called masturbation a sin, and the fight against AIDS a waste of tax money.”  The first paragraph continues the meme, throwing in the “Americans are religious nuts” stereotype for good measure;

“According to the Bible, lust is the same thing as adultery. One can’t masturbate without experiencing lust.” Christine O’Donnell fixes her gaze on the camera. She patiently explains the world to the MTV moderator. “There is god-given sexual desire,” she says. However, sex outside of marriage is fundamentally wrong. It violates the sixth commandment.

As Spiegel’s sage German readers shake their heads about the poor, perverted American religious fanatics, they’re fed another helping of the same:

In 1997, Christine O’Donnell said that the government was spending too much money for fighting AIDS. That America was wasting a bundle on pornographic condoms. That cancer was an “Act of God,” but, on the other hand, AIDS was a punishment for individual behavior. That one could eradicate venereal disease within a generation if all Americans kept in mind their Christian values.

Moving right along, Spiegel keeps spanking the monkey:

Masturbation opponent O’Donnell could come up short in the election for Congress.

and

After winning the primary, she celebrated with as much gusto as she did in her 1996 anti-masturbation campaign.

Got that?  You didn’t miss that masturbation thing, did you?  Oddly enough, the English version only mentions the unmentionable sin once, and that merely as an afterthought;

The Tea Party movement has won a succession of Republican primaries, with its conservative, anti-establishment candidates. O’Donnell is known for her pro-gun, anti-abortion stance, as well as her belief that masturbation is a sin.

Apparently Spiegel wants to spare the sensitivities of its American readers, who will surely know that masturbation makes you blind and sterile.  Other than that, the English version is the soul of non-partisan objectivity.  For example, in the above, the Tea Party movement is “conservative.”  Later on we learn that it is a “grass roots” movement whose “popularity is widely attributed to dissatisfaction with US President Barack Obama and frustration with the lackluster US economy.”  The English version concludes with a selection of similarly bland comments about O’Donnell and the Tea Party movement that have appeared in the German media recently. 

The German version adds a little more “context” and “detail.”  In the opening section we learn that O’Donnell is not merely “conservative,” but an “arch-conservative,” and the Tea Party movement is an “arch-conservative group.”  Predictably, the editors throw in the “extremist” meme, familiar to readers of lefty blogs in the U.S.

In year one after the world economic crisis, there are poisonous political discussions in America about a political drift to the liberal left. The political camps are becoming polarized. Many would say: They are becoming radicalized.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Germany, you’re more than likely to learn firsthand that the home-brewed picture of Amerika that German’s are fed by their media is somewhat different from the “English version.”  Either wear Lederhosen and try to blend in, or brace yourself for the attentions of any number of earnest Teutons, who will eagerly do you the favor of explaining your own country to you.  As for the editors of Der Spiegel, don’t take it personally.  They’re just as “non-partisan” when they’re reporting about events in Germany.  No matter that the German economy is booming, unemployment is less than it was before the economic crisis began, and employers are having an increasingly difficult time finding skilled help.  They still bitch about Chancellor Angela Merkel as if she were, well, as if she were Barack Obama.  After all, she, too, is an “arch conservative.”

UPDATE:  Zombie at Pajamas Media (hattip Insty) has turned up some very interesting Christine O’Donnell/Jimmy Carter quotes.  Don’t look for them on Der Spiegel, though.  They don’t fit the narrative.

Another Thigh Slapper from Der Spiegel: CNN a “Non-partisan Sender.”

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in Germany will have occasionally encountered what the locals describe as a “Besserwisser,” someone who credits himself with invariably “knowing better” than anyone else about any subject one might name. Occasionally they will be so good as to educate you about your own country, which they have likely never visited, but regarding which they still deem themselves experts, having read many articles in Der Spiegel on the subject. The Germans have another wonderfully expressive word for this; “beglücken,” used to refer scornfully to the act of ostensibly intending to make you “happy” or “fortunate,” in this case with their informative lectures, while accomplishing exactly the opposite. When it comes to expressing scorn, the German language has no equal. Today Spiegel’s Marc Pitzke “hat uns beglückt” by delivering himself of a particularly ludicrous example of the sort of “reliable information” the Besserwisser use in concocting their yarns about Amerika.

In his latest, Pitzke’s theme is the demise of CNN, as exemplified by the retirement of star broadcaster Larry King. He breaks the depressing news to his countrymen in his byline: “The departure of talk king Larry King is symptomatic – in the USA the non-partisan broadcaster is losing out to its opinionated competition in prime time.”

CNN “non-partisan!?” After wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I checked their website just to make sure nothing drastic had happened since the last time I looked. Had someone given Wolf Blitzer a lobotomy, perhaps? No. The familiar slant was still there; a puff piece about the ACLU’s latest pious anathema’s against Arizona. Lots of coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf without the slightest allusion to the dial tone coming from the President’s office on the subject, in stark contrast to their constant breathless reporting about the lapses of George W. Bush following hurricane Katrina. An odd disinterest in the Gore rape scandal. A helpful suggestion that I may have misspelled my words when I searched the site for “Weigel” and “Journolist.” In a word, business as usual.

All this appears to have escaped the attention of Mr. Pitzke, who writes from his alternate universe;

There’s more behind the problems than just bad management. The competition has set itself apart with unabashed opinion mongering in recent years, whether towards the right (Fox News) or towards the left (MSNBC). CNN persists in keeping to the golden middle way. “We’re not partisan,” said (CNN spokesman) Klein. “We don’t promote a point of view.”

He must have said it with an amazingly straight face, as Pitzke didn’t notice the least bit of irony. Charging blithely ahead, he wonders gravely,

But can non-partisan, purely news-oriented reporting stay in the running in the days of Google, Twitter, and Facebook? When everyone can click up news according to his own taste? Many see the downfall of CNN as the handwriting on the wall: the end of journalism is near.

I know! I wondered the same thing. Does this guy really believe his own cant? The thought is depressing, but is it that far-fetched? After all, more than a billion people in this asylum of a world believe in a tyrannical super-being who plans to fry the lion’s share of the rest of us in hellfire for millions and billions of years (and even longer in my case). Well, there is an encouraging note to all this. If the end of the type of “journalism” Pitzke refers to really is near, the world is bound to be a bit less irritating, and any number of condescending, holier-than-thou, “non-partisan journalists,” will be constrained to find, if not a more honest, then at least a less ostentatious line of work.

Nuclear Power: Sweden sees the Light

It’s been a long time coming, but the Swedish government has finally given the green light to construction of new nuclear power plants. The Guardian reported a ministerial decision to present a law to that effect to the Swedish parliament in February 2009. It’s taken a while for the legislative process to run its course, but Der Spiegel now reports that the new law has been approved. The restrictions on nuclear power in Sweden and several other European countries have never made much sense. They exist as a result of the now familiar efforts by “Greens” to evoke a fantasy world in which they are the noble saviors of humanity against the forces of evil, represented in this case by radioactive doom. Think “China Syndrome.” In the process of “saving” them, their environmental “gift” to the people of Europe has been to insure that any number of dirty coal-fired power plants would stay on line spewing massive amounts of cancer causing particulates and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, while at the same time representing a substantially greater radioactive risk than nuclear plants of similar capacity.

It is unclear whether the new Swedish law will have concrete results. The situation there is similar in many respects to that in the United States where, in spite of the pro-nuclear stance of the Obama Administration, the ineptitude of government and the legal system and the short-sightedness of industry have combined to make the construction of new nuclear capacity prohibitively expensive. The “green light” also comes with many caveats. As Spiegel puts it,

The majority in favor was extremely thin, and came with any number of “whens” and “buts.” New reactors can only be built to replace one of the ten already in existence at the three Swedish nuclear plants at Ringhals, Oskarshamn, or Forsmark, and only then if one of them is taken off the net permanently. Government subsidies for private power companies are forbidden, and any approval of new construction will require demonstration of an increase in demand for electric power.

It is hardly a sure thing that new nuclear power plants will ever be built on Swedish soil. Demand is on the decline, and the Swedes are getting a good look at everything that can go wrong thanks to their neighbors, the Finns. The new Finnish reactor at Olkiluoto, western Europe’s first new construction project since the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, is providing arguments for foes of nuclear power: a doubling of the original cost estimates, constant construction delays, and constant bickering between the government and the French consortium doing the work.

“Der Spiegel” Abandons Multiculturalism

Wiki defines multiculturalism as follows:

Multiculturalism is the acceptance or promotion of multiple ethnic cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, cities or nations. In this context, multiculturalists advocate extending equitable status to distinct ethnic and religious groups without promoting any specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural community values as central.

The editors of “Der Spiegel” have now apparently abandoned the multicultural paradigm, and have reverted to defining some cultures as “good” and others as “barbarous.” And who, you might ask, are the barbarians? Silly question! We are, of course. According to an article by Spiegel hatemonger-in-chief Marc Pitzke about the upcoming execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner for murder,

Double murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner is to be executed tonight in the state of Utah. He chose the method himself: death by firing squad. That is barbaric, but, in this case, completely legal – in spite of international protests.

One would thing the Germans, of all people, would have learned the dangers of cultural chauvinism. Be that as it may, it would seem that the term “barbarian” has now returned to their lexicon. According to the definition now current in the United States, “barbarous” means,

1. Primitive in culture and customs; uncivilized.
2. Lacking refinement or culture; coarse.

It would be edifying to learn what other cultures besides that of the United States are currently considered coarse and uncivilized.  Be that as it may, it is encouraging that the Germans have so far recovered from the unfortunate events of 65 years ago that they once again feel confident in asserting their cultural superiority.

The German Left Turns on Obama

Mirroring a similar phenomenon in the U.S., the political Left in Germany has become increasingly strident in it’s criticism of Obama of late. The latest example of the trend appeared at the top of Der Spiegel’s website this morning in the form of an article on the Wikileaks affair entitled, “Obama Hunts the Scandal Hunters.” Written by Marc Pitzke, whose contributions are usually limited to the one-sided hit pieces Spiegel still posts occasionally to keep its legions of Amerika-hating readers happy, the article leads with the byline,

He wanted to do everything completely differently from George W. Bush: Barack Obama promised transparency in dealing with government information. In fact, he persecutes insiders who blab about embarrassing incidents far more severely than his predecessor. The arrest in the Wikileaks Scandal is only the most well known example.

and includes such bits as:

  • The dramatic case shows how quickly a moral pitfall can become a judicial pitfall.  Beyond that, it illustrates a phenomenon that rights activists in the U.S. have been viewing with unease for some time – the increasingly aggressive action Washington has been taking against “whistle blowers,” or government insiders who reveal malfeasance and state scandals.
  • Liberals and leftists in the US are particularly enraged at the fact that, during the 2008 election campaign, it was just in this area that President Barack Obama promised a clean break with the politics of his predecessor, George W. Bush.  M.’s arrest confirms an “increasingly poisonous trend,” writes Jesselyn Radack of the activist group, Government Accountability Project (GAP):  “Bush bullied whistle blowers mercilessly, but Obama sets the law on them and puts them in prison,”  Obama is “much harder than Bush.”
  • One of the most prominent Obama critics in this case is Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the ultimate whistle blower.  Ellsberg passed the “Pentagon Papers” to the press in 1971 – internal memos that revealed that the government had already concluded the Vietnam War was a lost cause.  Ellsberg suffered persecution for years as a result.
  • “Obama is continuing the worst of the Bush Administration,” said Ellsberg in an interview with Spiegel Online about the persecution of whistle blowers.  “This continuing assault on citizen’s rights is inexcusable.”  Obama has “made a 180 degree turn.”

…and so on and so on.  I think we can safely say the honeymoon is over.

Cherrypicking Pacific Hurricanes

Apropos cherrypicking data, long before I started this blog, I happened to read a story in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine back in 2005 with the alarming headline, “Number of Dangerous Hurricanes Doubles.” According to the blurb following the headline, “The strength of tropical cyclones has increased dramatically since the 70’s. The number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled. A possible result of the greenhouse effect?” I had just read Bjorn Lomborg’s “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” with its many accounts of environmentalists crying “wolf,” so the story had an eerily familiar ring to it. I decided to do some fact checking of my own.

The article on which the Spiegel account was based was entitled “Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment.” It had appeared in the prestigious journal “Science,” where its authors were listed as P. J. Webster, G. J. Holland, J. A. Curry, H.-R. Chang. Apparently the source of Spiegel’s “doubling of dangerous hurricanes” claim was included in the paragraph,

Examination of hurricane intensity (Fig. 4) shows a substantial change in the intensity distribution of hurricanes globally. The number of category 1 hurricanes has remained approximately constant (Fig. 4A) but has decreased monotonically as a percentage of the total number of hurricanes throughout the 35-year period (Fig. 4B). The trend of the sum of hurricane categories 2 and 3 is small also both in number and percentage. In contrast, hurricanes in the strongest categories (4 + 5) have almost doubled in number (50 per pentad in the 1970s to near 90 per pentad during the past decade) and in proportion (from around 20% to around 35% during the same period).

The articles basic conclusions can be found in the last two paragraphs:

We deliberately limited this study to the satellite era because of the known biases before this period, which means that a comprehensive analysis of longer-period oscillations and trends has not been attempted. There is evidence of a minimum of intense cyclones occurring in the 1970s, which could indicate that our observed trend toward more intense cyclones is a reflection of a long-period oscillation. However, the sustained increase over a period of 30 years in the proportion of category 4 and 5 hurricanes indicates that the related oscillation would have to be on a period substantially longer than that observed in previous studies.

We conclude that global data indicate a 30-year trend toward more frequent and intense hurricanes, corroborated by the results of the recent regional assessment. This trend is not inconsistent with recent climate model simulations that a doubling of CO2 may increase the frequency of the most intense cyclones, although attribution of the 30-year trends to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state.

The authors have included all tropical hurricanes in their conclusions.  However, as I have a day job and can’t do climatology full time, I will focus on the largest single region studied; the west Pacific Ocean.  This seems reasonable to me, as it had 201 hurricanes during the period studied compared to 85 in the region with the second largest number of occurrences.  Anyone who cares to do so is welcome to check the other regions as well.  I will gladly post the results if they are substantially different from mine.

First, let’s consider the “doubling of powerful hurricanes” claim.  It is based on a comparison of five year periods, or pentads, in the 1970’s versus the decade 1995 to 2005.  And, sure enough, if one compares the 19 cat 4 and 5 hurricanes in the pentad 1974 to 1978 with the 44 in the pentad 2001 to 2005, we can go the Science article one better.  The number has more than doubled! 

But wait!  The authors limited themselves to the “satellite era,” beginning in 1975, because, as they put it, “because of the known biases before this period.”  The nature of these biases are made clear in a book by Jack Williams of USA Today, who writes,

Until weather satellites began “seeing” eastern Pacific hurricanes in the 1970s, meteorologists had underestimated how many occur because many storms never come near land and fewer ships sail the eastern Pacific than the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through Nov. 30.

Assuming a similar bias applies to the western Pacific, then it resulted in under- and not overestimation of the frequency of storms.  How very odd, then, that if we push our study back another fifteen years and include the decade of the 1960’s, the “pentads” tell an entirely different story.  The largest number of storms in any five year period in that decade was 48, from 1961 to 1965!  If pentads are really a compelling argument for a “doubling of powerful hurricanes,” as the authors and the editors of Spiegel claim, than they can all rest easy.  The data from the 1960’s “proves” we have nothing to worry about.

According to the authors, they deliberately limited their study to the satellite era, which began in 1975, to avoid the bias referred to above.  How very convenient, then, that according to a report of the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Oceanography Center, “1975 saw a sharp decrease in tropical cyclone activity from last season.”  How very convenient as well that 2004, the last year cited in their study, had 12 powerful storms in the western Pacific, matching the highest number ever recorded in a given year.  Can you say “cherrypicking?”  Interestingly, since 2004, the numbers have begun to drop off.  For the pentad 2005 to 2009 they are 9, 9, 8, 5 and 7.  Presumably the authors, who put such faith in pentads, must be forced to conclude that their conclusions were wrong, and the trend for powerful storms is actually on the decline. 

In fact, the pentad numbers that inspired Spiegel’s alarmist headline demonstrate nothing, one way or the other.  As anyone can see who cares to actually check the data for the last 50 years, they are dominated by statistical noise. 

Let’s take a look at the number of powerful storms in the western Pacific during those years, including the “under-respresented” ones before the satellite era.  They are:

1960 to 1969:  7, 9, 8, 10, 9, 12, 5, 7, 8, 3

1970 to 1979:  8, 8, 6, 3, 2, 4, 8, 3, 2, 4

1980 to 1989:  4, 4, 6, 4, 7, 1, 4, 8, 6, 8

1990 to 1999:  7, 9, 10, 6, 11, 6, 8, 12, 4, 2

2000 to 2009:  7, 5, 9, 9, 12, 9, 9, 8, 5, 7

Pretty bumpy data, isn’t it?  According to the authors, “There is evidence of a minimum of intense cyclones occurring in the 1970s.”  That’s certainly an understatement, and one that the editors of Spiegel predictably didn’t even bother to mention.  Include the data from the 1960’s and early 70’s, and the “long term trend” starts fading into the mist.

Tell me, who peer reviews stuff like this, and how does it get published in a journal like “Science?”  Here’s what I think:  It is likely that global warming is real, and it represents a significant threat.  Under the circumstances, scientific integrity is essential to establish the credibility of the danger, and certainly outweighs the need of professors X, Y and Z to pad the list of publications in their CV’s with junk science like this.  Surely the authors of the paper were aware of the data from the 1960’s.  Was it too much to ask that they at least mention it?  Was it too much to ask for them to give a more convincing reason than “the beginning of the satellite era” for cherrypicking a minimum and maximum for their starting and ending dates in accordance with what has now apparently become, as Voltaire put it, “a mere matter of tradition” among environmental scientists?   

What can I say?  Chalk up one more data point for Bjorn Lomborg. Let’s lighten this post up a bit with a bit of humor in the form of psychobabble from the pages of The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  Here’s the abstract:

Despite extensive evidence of climate change and environmental destruction, polls continue to reveal widespread denial and resistance to helping the environment. It is posited here that these responses are linked to the motivational tendency to defend and justify the societal status quo in the face of the threat posed by environmental problems. The present research finds that system justification tendencies are associated with greater denial of environmental realities and less commitment to pro-environmental action. Moreover, the effects of political conservatism, national identification, and gender on denial of environmental problems are explained by variability in system justification tendencies. However, this research finds that it is possible to eliminate the negative effect of system justification on environmentalism by encouraging people to regard pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting the status quo (i.e., as a case of “system-sanctioned change”). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

There you go, Luboš.  Any time you’re in the market for more psychoanalysis, just slip a nickel in my tip jar

Is there a VAT in Your Future?

The dead tree media are more about narratives than news these days, but occasionally narratives can be interesting in their own right. They can be good bellwethers if you want to know which way the political winds are blowing. Take, for example, an article about the value-added tax in last Wednesday’s Washington Post. Other than telegraphing the Administration’s thinking on the subject, it was a masterful example of the current journalistic state of the art in presenting editorials as news.

True, the title larded it on a little thickly. In the paper version it was “Experts say Washington is too quick to dismiss a value-added tax.” I see the Internet has toned it down a notch to the somewhat more subtle, “VAT’s benefits outweighed by politics, experts say.” In journalistic parlance, an “expert” is someone with a modicum of academic gravitas who will reliably spout a given propaganda line if the narrative of the day requires it. Any news organization worth its salt keeps a stable of them on hand suitable for any occasion. Germany’s Spiegel magazine has one of the world’s greatest menageries, including my personal favorite, “peace researchers,” (Friedensforscher), whose ostensible purpose is to promote hatred of the United States. In the case at hand, the choice of “experts” would seem to indicate that the WaPo’s editors, and therefore the Administration, have concluded that the American people need another regressive tax to go along with legalized gambling. No surprise there. Soaking the rich never works. They’re too good at fighting back.

Scanning through the first few paragraphs, we learn that the President’s press secretary, always good for a laugh, has told reporters, “This is not something the President has proposed, nor is it under consideration.” The Republicans, we are informed, don’t want to raise taxes either, even though they “howled about cuts to Medicare in the recent healthcare overhaul.” (Only Republicans “howl.” Democrats “object.”) Sure enough, the right’s movers and shakers on talk radio defended Medicare as if it were some kind of sacred cow, in the midst of their ringing denunciations of nationalized health care. Of course, we also have the Republicans to thank for the massive new prescription drug entitlement, a fact the article doesn’t even bother to mention.

Cutting to the chase, we arrive at the “zinger” paragraph at the end, where the editors always provide a pithy synopsis of the narrative for those too dense to figure it out from the rest of the text.  In this case it is provided by “expert” Bruce Bartlett, a historian, all the more legit because, as we are informed, he was a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan administration:

“I think we have to remember that low taxes or tax rates are not an end in themselves; they are the means to an end, which is higher growth and greater prosperity,” Bartlett wrote on the blog Capital Gains and Games. “In this sense, I think right wingers pay far too much attention to the negative economic consequences of taxation while essentially ignoring the negative economic consequences of exremely large deficits.”

Assuming the Democrats and Republicans are really the only players that matter, I can’t fault the WaPo’s logic here.  After all, when Republicans accuse Democrats of deficit spending, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Of course, the article studiously avoided even the slightest mention of another, seemingly significant, player, if the latest Rasmussen poll is any guide; the Tea Party Movement.  This seems a little odd, considering that the explosive growth of government and the accompanying deficits are the main reasons the movement exists to begin with.  Do the editors consider the Tea Partiers insignificant?  Why, then, have they been shaking with fear for the last month about the way the movement is “fomenting violence?”

Be that as it may, it would seem that (surprise, surprise) the Administration has changed its tune, and that with alacrity.  In fact on the very day the article appeared, the AP ran a story with the headline, “Obama suggests value-added tax may be an option.”  Robert Gibbs must have been stunned!

Well, this is a democracy, and the American people did vote for these people.   Government bennies don’t grow on trees.  Eventually, they must be paid for.  As for those who actually believed Obama when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes on 95% of us, the only advice I can give them is, “open your mouth and close your eyes…”

Of Niall Ferguson, Objective Criticism, and European Hatemongers

There has, of course, always been an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in European society. Our rapid expansion across the continent and rise as a potential competitor, our form of government, our heterogeneous mixture of races and ethnic groups, and religious idiosyncrasies, our geographic distance, and many other factors have acted to reinforce the sense that Americans were “others.” Our brains are hard-wired to have a dual system of morality, which I have elsewhere referred to as the Amity/Enmity Complex. We reserve “good” moral behavior for those in our “in-group.” The “other,” however, is perceived as evil, unclean, and contemptible. Ask the European Jews who survived World War II how that works. The collapse of the Soviet Union reinforced the sense of our power and significance. Instead of just one among several others, for many Europeans we became “The Other.” Predictably, human nature took its course, and hatred of Americans reached new extremes.

As I happen to speak German, I was able to watch the phenomenon as it developed in that country firsthand. It became impossible to overlook when the German mass media, with Spiegel magazine in the forefront, began to discover just how lucrative it could be to feed the growing undercurrents of anti-American hate. The rest of the media soon caught on. Towards the end of the Clinton administration, the German media started becoming choked with expressions of rage, hatred, and denunciations for any number of trumped up claims of US “immorality.” Spiegel’s editors became positively obsessed with the game, to the point that it became difficult to find any news about Germany on their website mixed in with the daily dose of intemperate railing against the USA. This quasi-racist Amerika bashing went on well into the Bush administration, until a growing number of decent Germans, and the few Americans who were paying any attention, started pushing back. David of Davids Medienkritik was prominent among them, and one can find some of the more egregious and vicious attacks documented on his website.

Gradually, the word spread, and more Americans began to notice, including influential players in our own mass media. It became increasingly obvious to the “respectable” elements in the German media that, if they kept it up, they would soon enjoy reputations similar to that held by Julius Streicher and “Der Stürmer” during the Third Reich. This, of course would not do. It might seriously jeopardize their chances of raking in any future international prizes for “objective journalism.” They began moderating their tone, until today one only sees the occasional chunk of red meat still tossed out to the legions of Amerika haters.

Of course, this remarkable change in tone makes it quite obvious that the editors of Spiegel and the rest were quite conscious of the game they were playing all along. If not from that, one could detect it in the day and night difference between the occasional English articles on their site and the German stuff intended for domestic consumption. While the unabashed hatemongering was still going on unabated, however, they were quite disingenuous about it. One of their favorite phrases was “objective criticism.” Any slanted, half-baked attack on the US was fobbed off as “objective criticism.” I don’t doubt that many Germans still rationalize their hate as “objective criticism.” To them, I can only recommend that they take a look at the real thing. They need look no further than Niall Fergusons, “The War of the World.”

The book is anything but a pro-US panegyric. On the contrary, we come in for some harsh criticism touching such matters as our pervasive habit of shooting enemy prisoners of war, our bombing of civilians in World War II, our less than generous response to the European persecution of Jews and other minorities before the war, and any number of other real or perceived shortcomings. There’s more than enough to make the more thin-skinned of my countrymen squirm as they read it. To read it, however, is to learn the difference between the “objective criticism” of the hate mongers and the search for truth of a conscientious historian.

Balance is always one of the best tip offs. Ferguson is well aware of the opposing arguments on either side of the issues he discusses, and has a deep grasp of the relevant history. No one can be perfectly objective. Our world view is bound to mediate the way we perceive historical facts to a greater or lesser extent. However, Ferguson doesn’t ignore half of the facts because they conflict with a preferred narrative. History plays a much different role in the “objective criticism” of the Amerika haters. For them, it is just a sewer one wades through to pick up choice tidbits that fit the narrative. To them, its end is to villify. Facts that conflict with that end are ignored. As a result, the hater’s grasp of history is necessarily shallow. Challenge one of their choice tidbits, and it’s obvious. They never waste much time trying to defend the indefensible. They just hop ahead to the next tidbit.  Read the book and you’ll see the difference.

There is another good reason for reading “The War of the World.” In the process of demonstrating the difference between a serious history and propaganda, Ferguson has created a virtual case study of the Amity/Enmity Complex in action. Of course, the manifestations of anti-American hate referred to earlier are an excellent example of a recent manifestation of this destructive aspect of human nature. “The War of the World” chronicles many more, although Ferguson himself hasn’t grasped the connection. The book cites instance after instance of slaughter and destruction inflicted on the “other” in recent history. The Jews are, of course, the quintessential “other” of our time, and Ferguson reveals the incredible and unforgivable misery they have suffered from the irrational hatred of their neighbors, not only in Germany, but in pogroms and murders that were every bit as vicious in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and a host of other countries. Read the litany of horror, and it may begin to dawn on you why the existence of Israel is necessary.

The Jews had plenty of company in the 20th century. Ferguson tells us of the Armenian genocide, the rape of Nanking, the slaughter of Serbs by Croats and of Moslems by Serbs, and countless other manifestations of the Complex. Read his book. Then read what Robert Ardrey, Arthur Keith, and many others have been trying to tell us since the time of Darwin about the dual system of human morality, and think about it.  Unless you’re blind. You’ll see they were right. One day, perhaps in the not too distant future, they’ll be proved right. Wait and see.