Liquefied Coal and Barack Obama

29 May 2007

Given that carbon dioxide emissions have been accelerating in recent years beyond even the IPCC AR4's highest projections, and that 2007 is so far the hottest year on record, it's no wonder that the Senate has been considering proposals to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions. But recently, Dick Gephart (D-MO) and Barack Obama (D-IL) have been pushing legislation to subsidize coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel as a replacement for gasoline. This is puzzling since CTL fuel actually contributes more in the way of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the LA Times:
"A new study has concluded that turning coal into liquid fuel yields 125% more carbon dioxide than producing diesel fuel and 66% more than gasoline. If the carbon dioxide is captured and permanently stored, liquid coal emits 20% more greenhouse gas than diesel but 11% less than conventional gasoline, according to the study to be released next week by Argonne National Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department."

Basically, it produces 66% more carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline. Hypothetically, if the emissions are successfully sequestered (a technology that seems expensive and uncertain at this point), then the emissions are only slightly better than what we have right now. Here's a chart from the NY Times, comparing CTL fuel to the other available options:

So are Obama and Gephart at least conditioning their subsidization of CTL on proper sequestration? Nope.

"The bill does not require that the fuel be produced without increasing greenhouse gas emissions, though it does offer tax incentives to encourage the use of technology that captures carbon dioxide."
So basically, they're using government money to encourage a fuel technology that will increase carbon dioxide emissions by 66% unless the participating coal companies voluntarily adopt an expensive and unproven technology out of the goodness of their hearts.

EDIT: As far as the proposals themselves go, the NY Times says that "the scale of proposed subsidies for coal could exceed those for any alternative fuel, including corn-based ethanol," including:
  • loan guarantees for six to 10 major coal-to-liquid plants, each likely to cost at least $3 billion
  • a tax credit of 51 cents for every gallon of coal-based fuel sold through 2020
  • automatic subsidies if oil prices drop below $40 a barrel
  • permission for the Air Force to sign 25-year contracts for almost a billion gallons a year of coal-based jet fuel


"If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia."
-Thomas Szasz

“God has spoken to me. I listen to God, and what I’ve heard is that I’m supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party."
-Tom Delay

Millenium Temperatures

Twelve temperature reconstructions from the IPCC AR4.

C is for Crank

28 May 2007

Ken Ham, the bearded author of "A Is For Adam" and "D Is For Dinosaur," recently opened a museum of creationism in Kentucky. In it, Ham uses religious dioramas to tell the story that the bible is literally true. Using the literal truth of every word of the bible as his infallible starting point, Ham then goes on to intermittently make use of long-ago disproved ideas to justify his position that the past few hundred years of scientific research in biology, physics, astronomy, geology and paleontology are all wrong. In its place, Ham asserts that the earth is just 6,000 years old, that plate tectonics raced the continents away from each other in a matter of days, and that man and dinosaur once walked together in the garden of Eden.

The National Center For Science Education (NCSE) touches on the media coverage here. Overall, I'd say that it's been pretty poor. Rather than laying out what Ken Ham claims in his museum and why it is wrong, most news organizations have put out weak "balanced" accounts such as this:

Notice how this segment has about two and a half minutes of Ken Ham claiming, without any explanation of what his reasoning is, that the bible is literally true and that he has a bunch of science to back that up. Counterbalancing this is only 30 seconds of a single scientist saying "that's not very plausible," also without any of the reasoning. Nowhere in this segment, or in any other that I've seen on CNN, have they informed the audience of what any of the arguments are.

The New York Times has an equally ineffective and friendly account of the museum here. Why do journalists find it so hard to call a spade a spade? Why do they always fall back on the "oh there's also an alternative viewpoint" angle instead of actually evaluating the claims that people make? Certainly CNN and the NY Times must have some actual scientific journalists...

EDIT: The Los Angeles Times does a better job here:
"The museum, a 60,000-square-foot menace to 21st century scientific advancement, is the handiwork of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the "young Earth" movement. Young Earthers believe the world is about 6,000 years old, as opposed to the 4.5 billion years estimated by the world's credible scientific community. This would be risible if anti-evolution forces were confined to a lunatic fringe, but they are not."

EDIT #2: Boykoff's Balance As Bias talks about a similar phenomenon in another area of science journalism.



BONUS: And here's a video of a convicted felon giving a speech at an unaccredited college on the same topic, saying basically the same things. He even opened a creationism theme park a few years back.

Irony in Congress

10 Republican and 10 Democratic Senators recently sponsored the OPEN Government Act, a bill that promises to reform the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") and promote openness in government. In a move of delicious irony, the bill was blocked by an anonymous Senator.

From Russia, With Love

In January of this year, Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov vowed to never allow a gay pride parade through his city, calling such events "satanic." Yesterday, gay rights activists attempted to present the mayor with a petition to lift the ban. In response, "Russian police detained gay protesters ... while nationalists shouting 'death to homosexuals' punched and kicked the demonstrators." According to Human Rights Watch, "[t]here was no real attempt to separate the two sides and that led to people being beaten up." Pictured on the left is one Russian nationalist just about to punch a gay rights campaigner in the face. However, police chose to arrest the peaceful protesters rather than the violent counter-protesters.

Here are a few choice quotes:

  • "We believe these perverts should not be allowed to march on the streets of Moscow, the third Rome, a holy city for all Russians"
  • "It (homosexuality) is satanic"
  • "...a group of thick-set young men turned up with surgeon's masks, which they said would protect them from the 'gay disease.'"
  • "Moscow is not Sodom!"
The way that the Russian police handled this situation is really disgusting. One of the men taken away told the Associated Press that the police beat him, and others, seizing their passports in the process. Remarkably, none of the violent anti-gay protesters were seen being taken away by the police. But they did manage to apprehend the man being punched in the photo above.

What I also found somewhat surprising was this CNN poll. I know it's not scientific, and it's just based on what people on the internet clicked on, but still. I don't really understand how 29% (1179) of the people who read that article could then agree with Luzhkov that Moscow should not allow gay pride rallies. They're just peaceful people, assembling peacably. What's the big deal?

EDIT: They even got Right Said Fred!

EDIT #2: It looks like they did get some of the violent protesters.

Miracles (and Billy Bass)

17 May 2007

There certainly is "something out there."

All's Well That Ends Well

15 May 2007

Jerry Falwell was found unconscious in his office at Liberty University today. CPR efforts were unsuccessful, and Mr. Falwell is no more. The cause of death has not yet been declared.

In his honor, here are a few quotes.

On Separation of Church and State: “The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country”
Sermon (4 July 1976)

On Public Schools: "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"
America Can Be Saved, 1979 pp. 52-53

On the 9/11 Attacks: "...throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad...I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen."

In the end, Barry Goldwater said it best:
“I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.”

Update #1: John McCain and Mitt Romney have released statements reacting to Falwell's death.

"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us. He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action. Ann and I have had the honor to talk and meet with Reverend Falwell and get to know him as a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him. He will be forever remembered."
-Mitt Romney

"I join the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Reverend Jerry Falwell. Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country.Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Falwell's family at this difficult time."
-John McCain

Update #2: Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church (yes, the people) has announced that the organization will be protesting Falwell's funeral. According to their website: "There is little doubt that Falwell split Hell wide open the instant he died."

Real World Problems

Brandon Hardesty re-enacts the "Real World Problems" from his Physics textbook.



More GOP and Evolution

14 May 2007

Minority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives Tom Emmer (R-MN) was recently asked if he believes that the earth is merely thousands of years old. Perhaps sensing that his position is indefensible, Emmer dodges the question twice, says that he has a different science, and calls his questioner an "evolutionist." Fellow Minnesota Representatives laugh at him.

Isn't it sad that the Minnesota Republican party has elevated this guy to such a high position of leadership?

McCain on Homosexuality

11 May 2007

John McCain recently wrote a letter (available HERE) in which he refers to the presence of open homosexuals in the military as an “intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline” as well as national security.

In the process of explaining his position, McCain makes the mistake of saying about the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy that "[I]t has also been upheld by the Supreme Court, which has ruled that the military may constitutionally discharge a servicemember for overt sexual behavior." But in reality, the highest court to rule on this kind of case was the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court hasn't touched it.

The Supreme Court said this in 1984 (Palmore v. Sidoti) about giving such credence to racial discrimination, and I think it's very much applicable here:

"The question, however, is whether the reality of private biases and the possible injury they might inflict are permissible considerations... We have little difficulty concluding that they are not. The Constitution cannot control such prejudices but neither can it tolerate them. Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect. 'Public officials sworn to uphold the Constitution may not avoid a constitutional duty by bowing to the hypothetical effects of private racial prejudice that they assume to be both widely and deeply held.'"
McCain further explains: "I believe polarization of the personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual servicemembers above those of their units." But it hardly seems like a misguided effort to elevate your interests when all you're asking for is to not get fired for being who you are. Since the DADT was first implemented, more than 11,000 servicemembers have been discharged for just that (many of whom even had special skills needed by the military).

Further, this is hardly a question about "unit cohesion." Charles Moskos, the principle author of DADT himself, has stated: "Fuck unit cohesion. I don't care about that...I should not be forced to shower with a woman. I should not be forced to shower with a gay." It should be perfectly clear to any observant person that this is a question of whether or not the private prejudices of certain individuals within the military should be sufficient to bar an entire class of people from military service. The answer to that question, as stated in Palmore, is clearly "no."

  • A Zogby poll in December found that 73% of servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan were "comfortable with lesbians and gays."
  • A 2004 poll found that a majority of junior servicemembers believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
  • A 2007 Harris poll found that 55% of the American population favors allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

Seven Years of Marriage

Mitt Romney recently gave the commencement speech at Pat Robertson's Regent University (which is tied for the lowest ranking law school in the country), and he made a rather curious comment about marriage in France:

"It seems that Europe leads Americans in this way of thinking," Romney told the crowd of more than 5,000. "In France, for instance, I'm told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past."
The curious thing about this comment is that it's 100% not true. So where did Romney get this idea from? Well it seems like Mitt is confusing French civil law with that of fellow Mormon Orson Scott Card's Sci-Fi novel "The Memory of Earth," a fictionalization of the first 100 years of the Book of Mormon set in outer space. It takes place on Planet Harmony, which was colonized 40 million years after the destruction of earth, and the citizens contract for marriage in seven-year terms. They also have to resist the computerized Oversoul from maintaining control over the human race. This certainly seems the most likely candidate, since Romney has already expressed his affinity towards Sci-Fi novels written by crazy people (he says that his all-time favorite novel is Battlefield Earth). As far as the French connection goes, perhaps he's mixing this book up with the French comedy "7 ans de mariage."

Tom Delay and Godwin's Law

10 May 2007

On his blog today, Tom Delay (pictured on the left) demonstrates that his irony-meter is broken.

Responding to recent comments by Vladimir Putin comparing U.S. foreign policy to that of the Third Reich, Tom Delay commented "Odd, I only thought it was the radical left in our own nation which enjoys likening the United States to Nazi Germany."

But Tom Delay has been pretty liberal himself with Nazi references. In his recent book, Tom Delay remarks:

“I believe it was Adolf Hitler who first acknowledged that the big lie is more effective than the little lie, because the big lie is so audacious, such an astonishing immorality, that people have a hard time believing anyone would say it if it wasn’t true. You know, the big lie — like the Holocaust never happened or dark-skinned people are less intelligent than light-skinned people. Well, by charging this big lie [that DeLay violated campaign-finance laws in Texas] liberals have finally joined the ranks of scoundrels like Hitler.”

In a radio interview last month, Tom Delay compared his indictment to "the eradication of six million jews" and said that "it's the same process."

Glenn Beck and Godwin's Law

09 May 2007

In his recent documentary on CNN titled "Climate of Fear," Glenn Beck demonstrates that his irony-meter is broken.

I found this exchange from the program particularly interesting:

LEGATES: Somebody says that whenever you get into Nazi connections, you've really jumped the shark.

BECK: No Nazi references? But how would these people even form sentences? Even I got to jump into the World War II of weather. Robert F. Kennedy called me "CNN's chief corporate fascism advocate." When asked why by The Washington Post, he recalled that I was voicing doubts about global warming a few weeks back.

LEGATES: When you have the science on your side, you argue the science. When you don't have the science on your side, you attack the messenger.

I also liked this final thought from the program:
BECK: "You`d think that scientists would look back at their history, when out-of-control churches locked them in towers to stop progress, and realize that just yelling, "The debate is over, and these people are heretics or Nazis," as loud as you can is not really the best way to advance science."

But is this the same Glenn Beck who, just days earlier, said this:
BECK: "Now, I'm not saying that anybody's going to -- you know Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government."

And this:
BECK: "You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming."

And this:
BECK: "Then you get the scientists -- eugenics. You get the scientists -- global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists that say, "That's not right." And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did. That's what Al Gore, the U.N., and everybody on this global warming bandwagon -- all the way to RFK Junior, who has called me a fascist for doing it -- all the way over to the global warming special that happened over in London a couple of weeks ago that is fantastic."

And who said this, just one month earlier, about Al Gore's testimony before the Senate:
BECK: "It is really -- one of the things in it that I heard yesterday in his testimony that I thought was disturbing was this -- what did he call it? -- a massive persuasion campaign. That sounded a little bit like Goebbels or Gore-bels."

And who said this last year about Al Gore's movie:
BECK: "See, when you take a little bit of truth and then you mix it with untruth, or your theory, that's where you get people to believe. You know? It's like Hitler. Hitler said a little bit of truth, and then he mixed in "and it's the Jews' fault." That's where things get a little troublesome, and that's exactly what's happening."

Mitt Romney On Pat Robertson

07 May 2007

Mitt Romney recently gave the commencement speech at Pat Robertson's Regent University. Mitt had nothing but adoration for Pat: “This university, its students, its alumni and the faculty serve as an example of Dr. Robertson’s dedication to strengthening and then nurturing the pillars of this community and our country: education, fellowship, and advancement.”

First off, I wasn't aware that Pat Robertson was a doctor. He went to law school, but failed to pass the bar. He later earned a Master of Divinity degree from the New York Theological Seminary, but I wasn't aware that this earned you the title "doctor". Maybe he got an honorary degree from someplace...

Anyway, let's see what Pat Robertson has said in the past to strengthen the pillars of our community.

Pat Robertson on Dover Pennsylvania: "I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city."

Pat Robertson on the September 11 attacks:
Two days after the terrorist attacks, Mr. Robertson held a conversation with Jerry Falwell on Mr. Robertson’s TV show “The 700 Club.” Mr. Falwell laid blame for the attack at the feet of “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians,” not to mention the A.C.L.U. and People for the American Way. “Well, I totally concur,” said Mr. Robertson.

Pat Robertson on Islam: "
I believe it’s motivated by demonic power. It is satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with. … [T]he goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination."

Pat Robertson on Ariel Sharon's stroke: "
You read the Bible and He says 'this is my land' and for any Prime Minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says 'no, this is mine.'"

Pat Robertson on assassinating Hugo Chavez: "I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it."
-The 700 Club, August 22, 2005

Pat Robertson on Hinduism: "The origin of it is all demonic. We can't let that stuff come into America. We've got the best defense, if you will -- a good offense."

Pat Robertson on non-Christians: "When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. `What do you mean?' the media challenged me. `You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?' My simple answer is, `Yes, they are.'"
-Pat Robertson's "The New World Order," page 218

Pat Robertson Invoking Godwin's Law:
"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history."
-Interview With Molly Ivins

The GOP and Evolution

04 May 2007

At the Republican debate last night, the moderator asked if any of the ten candidates did not believe in evolution. Three of the ten(Brownback, Tancredo and Huckabee) raised their hands.

Just to flesh things out a bit, let's see what these guys have had to say about the topic in the past:

Sam Brownback:

  • "it is impossible to observe macro-evolution, it is scientific assumption"
    -Speaking in support of the Santorum amendment (at S6152) which would have teachers present objections to evolution whenever it is taught in science classes
Mike Huckabee:
  • "I think that students also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism."
    -Arkansans Ask
  • "I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people."
    -Arkansans Ask
  • "I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally."
    -Arkansans Ask
  • "If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, I'll accept that....I believe there was a creative process.''
    -Associated Press


02 May 2007

The Vatican accused a comedian of terrorism today for criticizing the pope.

The Vatican's official newspaper accused an Italian comedian on Wednesday of "terrorism" for criticizing the Pope and warned his rhetoric could fuel a return to 1970s-style political violence.

In an unusually strongly worded editorial, L'Osservatore Romano said a presenter of a televised May Day rock concert, which is sponsored by Italy's labor unions, had launched "vile attacks" on Pope Benedict in front of an "excitable crowd".

"This, too, is terrorism. It's terrorism to launch attacks on the Church," it said. "It's terrorism to stoke blind and irrational rage against someone who always speaks in the name of love, love for life and love for man."

So did this guy incite a riot or organize a terrorist plot to destroy Vatican City? Nope. He just criticized the church's stance on evolution ("the Church has never evolved") and their refusal to give a Catholic funeral to Piergiorgio Welby, an Italian poet diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, because he campaigned for euthanasia ("I can't stand the fact that the Vatican refused a funeral for Welby but that wasn't the case for [Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet or [Spanish dictator Francisco] Franco").

This is hardly the language of terrorism, and the church should perhaps direct its overwrought hyperbole elsewhere. Especially when one of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention signed a petition in support of a real terrorist. Wiley Drake, vice president of the SBC, recently put his name on a petition in support of James Kopp, who has been convicted of killing an OB/GYN for performing legal abortions. The SBC is the largest Baptist organization in the world, and their support of this guy is far more likely to incite violence than the remarks of some comedian at a concert. Perhaps the Vatican newspaper should write an article about that rather than pretending to be a victim.