Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Religion vs. Society article: My first reading

I've downloaded Gregory S. Paul's article on religion vs. society (available here) and have been studying his statistical plots. My first impression is that there are some interesting results here, although not necessarily for the reasons the author thinks. The results do not support many of the claims made about it in the Times article I mentioned yesterday.

First of all, there are only four sets of plots that show a trend with some measure of religious belief:

1) "Accept human evolution" (anti-correlation)

2) "Under-five mortality/1000 births"

3) "15-19 year-old abortions/1000"

4) "15-17 year-old births & pregnancies/1000"

Furthermore, there are three sets of plots in which the US is a far outlying point, both in the measure of religion and in the other parameter, but the positions of other countries show no trend:

1) "Homicides/100,000"

2) "All age & 15-19 year-old gonorrhea infections/100,000"

3) "All age & 15-19 year-old syphilis infections/100,000"

Finally, there are two for which there is neither a trend, nor is the US an outlier:

1) "15-24 year old suicides/100,000"

2) "Life expectancy"

Interesting--in none of these plots is there evidence that religious belief correlates with any beneficial trends in society. Hmmm... Is it likely that that's really true? Heck, no! Maybe the author has picked those trends which he thought would show the results he wanted, or perhaps has eliminated (or not looked at in the first place) those which show beneficial correlations with religion. I've already mentioned below how there are some other measures of society that I'd have come up with long before some of these. How do they come out?

Furthermore, let's look at how some of these parameters might correlate with each other. Among the four plots that show a nearly linear relationship (the four in my first category), let's first cut out "Accept human evolution." That's not a cancer on society, like murder is. What are the remaining parameters in this category? Interestingly, all three of them deal with babies! We have teenage abortions, teenage pregnancies, and small-child deaths. Now, are these really independent parameters? I suspect that teenage abortions and teenage pregnancies would probably correlate rather well with each other. I have some idea that the deaths of small children might also be connected to this, but the first two are more obvious. Now, what should be done, rather than only correlating these with religion, look and see if these parameters correlate better with each other. If so, that would show that religion is not the variable driving the individual trends. It's sad the US shows high rates of these abortions and pregnancies and such, but it doesn't show that religion is the best correlation.

Now on to the second category, in which the US is an outlier (meaning it stands outside the trend or envelope of the other data points) but the other countries don't show any trend. OK, having two different sexually-transmitted diseases plotted probably doesn't add extra information. I would suspect that the gonorrhea and syphilis infection rates are closely correlated with each other. There is not a trend with religion shown in these plots. The US is an outlier on the infection rates, yes, and we're at the high end of religion, but all of the other counties cluster at low infection rates, and those show absolutely no trend with religion. Homicide rates are similar in this regard. The US and Portugal stand out at the high-religion end, and both have high homicide rates. Looking at the other 15(!) countries, there is no relationship between religion and homicde rates. Absolutely none.

Finally, we have those plots with no trends and without the US as an outlier: suicides and life expectancy. Suicides don't even show a hint of a trend. For life expectancy, you can imagine a low-quality anti-correlation if you ignore certain data points. It's easiest to do this on the plot vs. "Absolutely believe in God." In this one, Denmark and Japan are at or very near the low-religion end. Japan has the highest life expectancy (~80 yrs.), and Denmark has the second-lowest (~75.5 yrs.). Portugal, the second-highest on religion in this plot, has the lowest life expectancy, at ~75.3 years. The US is at the top on religion, and we are in the low-middle on life expectancy (~76.7 yrs.). To see a trend in this plot, you've got to keep the outliers Japan and Portugal in the plot but cut out the outlier Denmark. And no trend is visible even then, if you look at other measures of religious belief.

Incidentally, even in some of those plots that seem to show a trend, you don't see it if you look at different measures of religious belief, or the trend is severely muddled.

Finally, I notice that in throughout this study, the sample of countries changes from one plot to another! I realize that some survey data might not be available for all countries--that while you have the rates of childhood mortality for Portugal, you might not have the abortion rate, and so on. But this leaves open the possibility that those countries which do not appear in every plot...might spoil a trend in those for which they're not plotted. A better study would take only that subset of countries for which you have data for all the questions. That way, you're comparing the same ones in each case, and you can better control for other factors in society--things you haven't considered that might play a role.

To conclude for now: the only comparisons for which we see a clear trend (if we ignore belief in evolution) might plausibly related better with each other than they are with religion. For the rest of the study, knowing the religious belief of a country does notgive you the ability to predict other statistics about that country.

Who is Gregory Paul? (cont'd)

I'd been a bit confused in the post below by the number of Gregory S. Pauls out there on the web. It turns out that a few of them really are the same guy. The author of that anti-religion study seems to be a well-known evolutionary biologist and dinosaur expert. I found the connection from the "about the authors" paragraph on the back of his book, "Beyond Humanity: Cyberevolution and Future Minds." To quote:

Gregory S. Paul is an evolutionary biologist, whose latest publication, Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, was a best seller and Book-of-the-Month Club selection. An artist of prehistoric life, Paul's dinosaur sketches were used in the movie Jurassic Park. He resides in Baltimore and is the author of articles and reviews on evolution and paleobiology in Scientific American, Bioscience, and The New York Times.

Well, this explains his obsession with public opinions on evolution in that anti-religion study he just published. The book I've just mentioned here also has a chapter on the death of religion after the cyberhumans take over (or whatever). So we know he's already got this mindset.

I don't see that his background makes him any expert on social science. I don't know that he's made blatant mistakes in his study, besides the possible flaws I've already pointed out, two posts below, but it does mean I don't see any reason to believe his results any more than a similar study I'd do myself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who is Gregory Paul?

UPDATE: I'm trying to find out more about that "Gregory Paul" mentioned as the author of the religion vs. society study I wrote about below. He's a hard man to find on the web. Well, probably just that "Paul Gregory" is a more common name (I keep running across "Gregory, Paul" in my Google searches instead), or that there are plenty of men with Gregory Paul ____ as their first and middle names. Now, I put the following into Google:

"Gregory Paul" social -music -dinosaur -hitt -photography -economics -walden -wegner

Excluding music, dinosaur, economics, and photography is to eliminate some rather prominent other Gregory Pauls (or Gregory Paul ___'s), and the surnames I excluded are for other people.

Here's what I come up with:

Political Futurists and Radical and Utopian SF Authors: Gregory Paul and Earl Cox, authors of Beyond Humanity: Cyberevolution and Future Minds

Christianity and Fascism
From the reader comments at the bottom: "Your page on Christianity and Nazism, while interesting, is considerably plagiarized from Gregory S Paul’s article in the magazine Free Inquiry, Vol 23, No 4."

Extropy Institute (International Transhumanist Solutions) Beyond Humanity: Cyberevolution and Future Minds (Gregory Paul)

Now, if I look for "Gregory S. Paul" -dinosaur -dinosaurs:

Journal of Religion and Society His article is available here. I note that he lists no affiliation, unlike many of the other authors. I suspect he's not on a faculty anywhere. The journal is refereed, it says.

The Great Scandal: Christianity's Role in the Rise of the Nazis, By Gregory S. Paul This is the article that the "Christianity & Fascism" article above is supposedly plagarized from.

So...what can we conclude? That Mr. Gregory S. Paul (assuming I've identified the correct man in all of these cases) is an opponent of religion, at least of Christianity, and writes about futurist "trans-human" topics, like mind-transfers and self-aware computers. He seems to have no academic affiliation. Not that there can't be smart people outside of academia (plenty of them!), but I'm not used to seeing them write in refereed journals. I would suspect that his choice of statistical measurements could easily be influenced by his prejudices. Not that he can't do it right, since he has opinions, but I know where he's coming from before he's done the study.

A Christian society is a dysfunctional society?!

I read this really astounding article in the Times of London today. It is reporting on a study of some kind (its methods are not described in great detail) by one Gregory Paul. His institution or affiliation aren't listed in the article, but the journal is one called the Journal of Religion and Society, which is says is out of the United States. I don't know if it's refereed or not. Here's his big conclusion:

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Now, he does not come out and blatantly state that religion is the cause of all of this. The Times writer does, perhaps incorrectly (although I haven't read Paul's study to know): "RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today." And then there's, "But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills." Reporters very often make the logical error this writer does--that correlation means causation. It may be a mistake to conclude that.

However, if Paul is merely a dispassionate observer of the facts, you've got to get suspicious when he goes onto a rant on opinions about evolution and religion. Not something related to the behavior of society, but just his opinions about what it would take to get a wider belief in evolution here, etc. Then he throws in this smug little remark: “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

Well, the "Old Europe" Europeans he's talking about certainly aren't in Christian states anymore, as far as I hear. I don't mean officially Christian, of course (some of them are official, I think); I mean in practice for society.

Now, I could believe that we do have higher rates of some of the things he mentions. Whether it correlates with religious belief or some better factor he hasn't considered...well, you'd have to do the study yourself. But I notice a couple of things just from this brief write-up. For one thing, he considered the relative murder rates of the US and Great Britain. Yes, we do have a higher murder rate, and we are a more religious society than Britain is. But the overall violent crime rate in Britain is well above what it is in the US, and Mr. Paul doesn't seem to have looked at that. A second point is that I think he's looking at our society at this one instant in time. Trying to make correlations between different countries with different societies (which often vary in complex ways not easily quantifiable) is...tricky. So what about looking at our own country over time. Compare the changes in religious belief (or church-going activity, which is the more easily measured) over the past many decades, and compare it to the changes in the crime rates, STDs, abortions, and so on. What would you find, then?

Comparing American Judeo-Christianity and America's societal problems with, for example, Japanese Shintoism (and Buddhism?) and their societal problems?...that's not an easy comparison to make! There are so many wild differences between the forms, beliefs, and cultural effects of these religions that I don't believe religiosity is a useful indicator for comparing these two societies. Now, yes, he does compare us with Europe, but note how he says that the differences between the US and other places are more marked when you compare us with (among others) Japan.

France, Japan, and Scandinavia are the best countries, in his mind, in their murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion. Note that "early mortality" is thrown in there. I wonder if that's more a function of nanny-statism in prenatal care? Seems out of place next to the behavioral problems--murder, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion.

I've already discussed how murder is analyzed to the exclusion (as far as I know) of overall violent crime. Finally, the latter two both deal with sexual behavior. While I agree that both are bad to have in society, he apparently has excluded others that I would put in there: prostitution and children born out of wedlock, for example. If we threw those in there, how would Scandanavia and France rank? I don't know. Just asking.

One last thing that made me...well, alternately laugh and make a face: "[...] the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution." Wow! I've never before heard anybody make the claim that believing in a (The) Creator and believing in the process of evolution were mutually exclusive! I suspect the writer meant something like believing in a single, miraculous act of creation, rather than a gradual process like evolution, presumably driven directly by natural laws. For the record, I believe in the Creator and in the process of evolution. And I'd hope that even in Europe, most of the people believe in the Creator, regardless of what they think of evolution!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Anti-Americanism and jazz

NRO's Jay Nordlinger has a typically excellent Impromptus column today. In it, he relates a conversation with a Foreign Service officer--an American--who wasn't too fond of America. After Jay told him about another Foreign Service officer he knows, who was wanting to get his children back into the States to live a while (they'd grown up overseas and had never lived in their own country), this guy responded,

My guy snorted, “Yeah — introduce ’em to the joys of Burger King.” I let that slide. But later I asked him, “Do you really think that’s all there is to American society and culture? Burger King?” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that great institution, believe me.) Then this guy said, “Well, there’s jazz.”

“Anything else?” I inquired. He couldn’t think of anything.

Only jazz--that rang a bell with me. I had read some years ago that the French sometimes remark that the only thing America has actually invented is jazz. I gathered that they regarded any other "American" invention as really having been invented elsewhere and merely improved upon here.

Well, OK, some of the major things in modern life that we might naively think of as American inventions are, of course, from other countries. The automobile was invented (the first practical one) in...France? Germany? One of those two. And the steam locomotive is British.

But what about other aspects of modern transportation? The airplane? Well, that's pretty clearly American. The rocket? The Germans did a lot of great work on it, but the liquid-fueled rocket is American (Robert Goddard).

Let's go on to other high technology. The computer? That one had many fathers, and maybe that's what the French critics are getting at. But the first electronic digital computer was either the ENIAC (University of Pennsylvania) or the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (University of Iowa), depending on how you want to define your terms. Both American, regardless. Telephone? American. A Canadian immigrant did it, but it was after he came to America. Television? Also American.

The movie projector? Edison made great improvements to it, but I think it was two Frenchmen who did it first. But Edison invented both the incandescent light bulb and the record player.

In fact, if you want to go way back, to the beginnings of this country, you'll find Americans were already showing their ingenuity, with Benjamin Franklin alone responsible for all kinds of things, from bifocals to the Franklin stove.

But let me get back to jazz. Even if you want to look only at music, it's hard to claim that jazz is the only American invention. Music, much more than physical implements, is the product of evolution and varieties of influences, so that it can be harder to pinpoint a new style's "invention." But let's give this a try with some other genres. Blues--invented around the turn of the century (1900) or a bit earlier in the upper Mississippi Delta. "Discovered" by W. C. Handy a little south of Memphis (in Mississippi) in 1903. Rock & Roll--invented in 1948, also in the South. The first rock & roll song was "Rocket 88" (I've forgotten the group's name). Country & Western music--whew...old enough in its various forms it'd be hard to pinpoint when it became what it is now. But we can certainly say that bluegrass music is a product of the mid-century South. Under that name, it was specifically created by Kentucky's Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Still, his was an incremental change from what he simply called "mountain music," and that was traditional Southern, backwoods fiddle playing and the like, ultimately with Scottish & Irish roots.

Coming back to the comment that inspired this post, I wonder if jazz is the anti-American's one concession to American ingenuity? Do anti-Americans go for jazz more than other people do? Dunno. Just strikes me as funny that this pops out of not only anti-American Europeans' mouths, but an anti-American American's, too.

More on Disasters and Federalism

Following up on my post below, here's a great article by Cato's Chris Edwards on NRO.

Federalism and natural disasters

Former Virginia governor James Gilmore is on Fox News right now, against former Texas Congressman Martin Frost. Frost is proposing all kinds of anti-Federalist, unconstitutional ideas for disaster response, mostly involving the Feds telling the states and counties and cities what to do (and forcing them), and having the standing Army (I mean, as opposed to the National Guard) take command in disaster areas.

Yikes! this scares me.

Gilmore is doing a great job standing up to these wrong-headed ideas, reminding Frost that the Army can't take law-enforcement duties, and explaining how it's not the Federal Government, but the states and local governments who have the principal responsibility in case of a disaster. Good job by Gilmore.

I think it was Frost on Fox over the weekend who was discussing how the Federal Government would pay for all of this. He doubted that Congress would be willing to cut enough other spending to meet the needs (good question!). So...he proposed a 10-cents tax (on gasoline?). Now, since I was stepping into the room as he said this, I'm not sure I heard correctly, but if he was really suggesting raising the gas tax by 10 cents, that's a really boneheaded idea. Gas is almost painfully high, as it is. Raising the tax on it will raise the price of everything that is shipped by truck, as well.

The best part (I am being sarcastic) was his insistence that paying this tax would be patriotic! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, paying higher taxes is the patriotic thing to do. I suppose that wanting lower taxes is therefore unpatriotic? Jerk.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

NPR: It's not just for elitists, anymore!

More on that NPR Ombudsman's article I wrote about below.

You've got to read the first listener's comments to Dvorkin. Oh, my goodness, what unrestrained, self-unaware, liberal elitism! Get a load of this:

I have been moved to tears by the various heartbreaking stories and predictions. I am so angry at your revelations about our administration's bumbling I cannot speak of it in civilized tones. And your stories that show the extraordinary heroism in everyday people allow me to hope we will survive this crisis.

While mainstream media have been sensationalizing, over-simplifying, trivializing and sometimes obfuscating the hellish reality of a once-great city, NPR, in its quiet, calm and authoritative tones, has delivered the Truth.

Never, never, never let anyone say "NPR is for elitists." Without NPR... the rest of the country would be startlingly ignorant. God bless you all, and the vital work you do.

Let's dissect this, shall we? (1) "...your revelations about our administration's bumbling..." Yes, that's what comes across in NPR's broadcasts. Haven't heard much about Nagin's bumbling, or Blanco's bumbling, have we? See my post below for a specific instance of this blindness. And despite the left going on with criticisms of the Feds in Katrina, I still don't know what they supposedly did wrong. Was Federal help any later than the states have long been told? Feds are not and should not be first responders. Was there a breakdown in the Federal work? I hate FEMA's bureaucratic mindset--making firemen pass out fliers at shelters, rather than rescue people, or having them go through PC sensitivity training for hours, rather than get their assignments and get to work...handing out fliers... But of the practical stuff they've been doing, what did they screw up on?

(2) "While mainstream media have been sensationalizing, over-simplifying..." So NPR isn't part of the mainstream media? Funny, I always thought they were. Do you have to sell advertising to be mainstream? (Of course, they do sell ads, to an extent) Does being on the radio automatically make you out of the mainstream? Face it, lady, NPR isn't that different from ABC, CBS, or NBC, except that NPR is still on the radio, while the big three networks have their shows exclusively on the TV, nowdays. Another example of the left trying to take a term used by the right and twisting its meaning for their own purposes. Like Schumer's redefinition of "activist judge."

(3) "NPR, in its quiet, calm and authoritative tones, has delivered the Truth." Oh, for heaven's sake!! Gag me.

(4) "Never, never, never let anyone say 'NPR is for elitists.' " Snort, giggle! Hee, hee! OK, maybe this statement is supposed to be self-evidently true. Because if it's presented as following logically from the previous lines, I just don't get it. Oh--but the best part is when you keep this sentence in mind while you read her next statement:

(5) "Without NPR... the rest of the country would be startlingly ignorant." Oh, for goodness sake! NPR is not for elitists. And without it, everybody else would be "startlingly ignorant"! Can I please get a big towel in here to wipe off the condescension dripping from her tongue?!

NPR, too

This article by NPR's ombudsman is notable for his willingness to criticize the bias in the BBC. But reading the part above that section, I was struck by his unwillingness to admit to NPR's biases. One listener writes to complain about All Things Considered's Hurricane Katrina timeline, aired Sept. 9. I heard the same broadcast, and I had a similar reaction. NPR did a great service in putting together such a detailed timeline of what happened, both in the storm and in the responses to it. But it was typical NPR liberalism in how it left out some items or phrased others to lead you to an opinion about them.

The first thing I noticed was how they left out the details surrounding New Orleans' failure to plan for the evacuation of citizens who had no cars (I'm thinking of those schoolbuses they kept idle, until they were flooded and useless), and then the Lousiana Dep't of Homeland Security's preventing the Red Cross from distributing food to refugees in the Superdome (I think it was the Superdome), because Louisiana DHS wanted the people to go elsewhere. Now, the latter might have some reasoning behind it, but it's an important issue, and listeners should have been told. The former doesn't have any excuse. Incompetence and a failure to think ahead are not excuses. And listeners should have been told.

The second thing I noticed was how Bush was portrayed as out of touch, and his relevant department secretaries as clueless, by the subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) phrasing of the sentences. Juxtapose two items to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship, or to suggest that A should have reacted immediately to B (after all, the listener just heard the cleaned-up timeline relayed in twenty minutes, and it all seemed to simple--why shouldn't everybody else have gotten the picture at the time?!), and you can suggest all kinds of conclusions that are not stated outright. This is bias, too. Lousiana Governor Blanco came across in the timeline as blessed with great foresight and management skill. Watching the news elsewhere, though, and watching her press conferences, I've gotten a very different impression of her. Not a great crisis manager. Same with Mayor Nagin. An honest man, and probably great for cleaning up corruption, but he can't handle a crisis. He doesn't plan properly, and he makes excuses.

I have some criticisms of Bush and the Federal Government in all of this, and I'm not putting all of the blame on New Orleans and Lousiana, but NPR shaded the news in their broadcast. Despite Ombudsman Dvorkin's protestations, All Things Considered did place blame, in their timeline. They didn't say, "Blame Bush," but rather, they left out facts and phrased others so that the listener would think this was the proper conclusion.

$%&^#*! BBC commie!

Am I exaggerating? Read it, and judge for yourself.

Relevant excerpts:
"The real question - putting it baldly - is whether there is going to be a revolution." [Of course, I don't think he's specifically thinking of a violent revolution. --Ed.]

Charity is part of the warp and weft of American life and it is telling that Hurricane Katrina has encouraged an outpouring of giving on a scale never seen before. [...]

Americans have given with unbridled enthusiasm and generosity.

Is that not something governments do?

Americans do not think so and never will.

This is unquestionably a source of strength and spine in troubled times, but boy does it put a dampener on revolution.

Charity ameliorates it, softens blows, pours oil on troubled waters. It does not lead to social change.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ron Silver's UN Movie

Instapundit also directs us to this new documentary by Ron Silver, about the UN. Silver, you'll recall, is a hawkish Hollywood Democrat (maybe former Democrat?) who gave a really impassioned, stirring speech at the last Republican National Convention. I'd call him a conservative, but really he's in-between. He's more liberal on social issues. Nonetheless, it's great to have him on our side, overall, and terrorism is, of course, the most important issue of the day.

Silver has made a documentary on the repeated failure of the UN, called "Broken Promises," just in time for the East River Debating Society's 60th anniversary. Silver grew up in awe of the UN. He talks about the "sense of pride" he felt in the organization. But then he saw the body's long string of failures--either from neglect or from a refusal to take sides. Israel, Kashmir, Bosnia, Rwanda... All places where the UN has dropped the ball.

The movie is coming out on DVD. I hope it'll be widely available soon.

Victory on New Orleans gun confiscations!

Instapundit and Say Uncle direct us to this NRA press release. The NRA has won a restraining order in Federal court against the confiscation of guns in New Orleans. Yes!!

Friday, September 23, 2005

And Dick Cheney's in on it, too!

The nut mentioned below has more.

Scroll down to "April 15, 2004 0705Z." Dick Cheney's "shadow government" is in collusion with the aliens, apparently.

Space Weather Nut

I've seen a couple of references in The Corner to this guy Scott Stevens, a weatherman in Idaho. He's some kind of nut, from what I've read about him and from him. Thinks that Hurricane Katrina was caused by a Japanese "weather machine," and he's got some oblique references to the sun being used/abused/exploited by space aliens. He's got photos of "solar torpedos or a fleet of smaller vessels" surrounding the sun and sending "their workers by the thousands to OUR Sun!"

Oh, boy...where to begin? His photos are from the SOHO (SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) observatory--a space-based observatory of NASA's that looks at the sun. He doesn't seem to understand what SOHO is. He's got a Scientific American article on the vibrations in the sun and how those might be connected to solar activity. Then he asks,

Is this what our SOHO ships are up too? Is this what these ships acting as magnetic/ultrasonic tools are doing... adding the until now unexplainable solar energy. Food for thought. And so many of them, day after day after day!

1) We don't have SOHO "ships." We have one single SOHO spacecraft. Not a fleet of them.

2) His whole question is a non-sequitur. Unless he's assuming that SOHO is causing activity on the sun. And if he thinks that the things he sees in the solar pictures are fleets of SOHO "ships"...

Then he shows several photos of the sun from SOHO's cameras. In each of these, he's zoomed in on image artifacts and seems to think that these are space ships--either alien or NASA. Although I'm not a solar astronomer, I've got a lot of experience in image analysis from another observatory, and I can explain what he's seeing.

Let's start with the image captioned "Jan 20, 2004 1042Z." Stevens writes, "Every minute of every day, for many years now, a great number of 'ships' travel to our Sun and to this Solar System. Why? And why haven't we been told?" This is a coronagraph image from SOHO. A coronagraph is a camera that blocks the glare of direct sunlight with a little metal disk (making an artificial eclipse), so you can see the fainter light of the solar corona--the atmosphere far above the sun. He seems to be looking at the blip (near the center of the image) which has an artificial-looking horizontal bar going through it. Stevens thinks this is a space ship. Actually, this is either a star or planet. It is overexposed in this photo, and the line through it is simply "blooming" in the CCD chip. CCD chips (digital cameras use these instead of film to record the image--light hits the chip and creates an electric signal in the pixels) have a maximum brightness that they can take. If a pixel is exposed to light brighter than this limit, there's a spilling of the electric charge from this pixel into the adjacent pixels in the row. The more the brightness limit is exceeded, the farther down the row the spillage goes. This happens to SOHO's coronagraph very often with planets. Sometimes with bright stars, I think. And then you occasionally get sun-grazing comets, and they can show blooming, too.

He might also be talking about the diagonal streaks in the image. These are cosmic ray tracks. Cosmic rays are high-speed protons (and some other subatomic particles) moving through space. Unfortunately for us astronomers, CCD cameras also make great cosmic ray detectors, and these make streaks in the image as they hit the camera. Cleaning these up is an important step when we use the Hubble, but we have ways to do so, by taking multiple exposures--the cosmics won't be in the same place in each picture, while the real subjects of your photo will be. SOHO runs its cameras in something like a movie camera mode, so they can't easily do this, and the cosmic ray tracks are left in.

The next photo is captioned, "January 30, 2004 0954Z / Large ships, very large ships, representing other civilizations bringing their workers by the thousands to OUR Sun!"

This is a different coronagraph on SOHO. It's zoomed in more than the coronagraph above. Here again we see CCD blooming. In this case, it's not a planet or star, but a bright spot in the corona itself.

The next photo is "March 13, 2003 0106Z / Solar torpedoes or a fleet of smaller vessels, and other tools are altering the Sun, and during that process changing the life process within this Solar System."

Here we see an image from one of SOHO's x-ray cameras (I think it's x-rays...maybe ultraviolet...). The sun presents a spectacular view in this wavelength. You can make out the shape of the magnetic field sticking above the "surface." Sunspots are associated with places where the magnetic field pokes out of the photosphere (the "surface" of the sun), so where you see the brightest spots here are, surprisingly, the dark sunspots we see in normal, visible light. Stevens again seems to refer to the blooming around a bright spot in the image, as well as a large cosmic ray track. Again, these are perfectly normal defects in these kinds of pictures. I ought to post some of my quasar images from the Hubble and show how these "Solar torpedoes" are clearly patrolling distant galaxies, as well!

Gun Seizures in Louisiana: NRA Fights Back

Good! The Washington Times writes that the NRA and the "Second Amendment Foundation" have filed suit in Federal court to stop the gun seizures by New Orleans police of private citizens in the city. I don't know about making it a Federal issue (wouldn't suit in state court be appropriate?), but I'm glad they're doing this. Thanks to them both for standing up for our rights!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Stuck on Stupid"

This is...beautiful...sniff!

I've only read the transcript, but Radio Blogger (linked above) has an MP3 file, as well. There's plenty of commentary on VodkaPundit's website.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Connecticut Gov. Halts New London Property Seizures!

This is wonderful! The governor of Connecticut has forced the city of New London to stop evicting the citizens whose property it wants to seize for redevelopment. This is all fallout from the Kelo vs. New London case, where the Supreme Court dropped the ball. Three cheers for the governor, who is taking his own action to prevent the problem. I've been impressed with the states' reactions to the case--so many of them are acting to limit eminent domain legislatively. Connecticut has not (apparently) done that yet, but while they debate the topic, the governor has told New London they won't get some state funding if they continue with their greedy plan. Good job!

NASA's new plan for manned spaceflight

And no, I refuse ever to use that stupid, PC monstrosity, "human spaceflight." (NASA, ever the political animal, has immersed itself fully in that well.) "Manned" is the appropriate term. What, are we trying to distinguish the shuttle program from our parallel monkey space program these days?

Oh, right--the point: NASA has revealed its design for the next manned spacecraft, to follow onto the Shuttle. It's an expendible craft with a re-entry capsule, in the mold of the Apollo program. has a picture gallery here. As I heard on the radio, the astronauts and cargo would be launched in separate rockets, to dock in orbit.

Now, the most intriguing aspect of the new program is that it has the goal of returning to the Moon! I'm a big fan of our manned solar system missions. I want us to return to the Moon and head on to Mars, both. Actually, I'd like to be the first man to set foot on Mars, but I'd settle for being the next man back on the Moon.

Now, I'm a fan of the shuttle program, but I agree that it's gotten too complex for the economics. It was supposed to cut costs by reusing the spacecraft, and to make space travel routine. But as the most complex machine ever built, and with the government bureaucracy running the whole thing, it didn't have the lean operation it was intended to. The cost per launch is in the neighborhood of $500 million (there are a lot of assumptions in that figure, but it's the most common number I see used). A private company has already made it into suborbital manned flight, and I expect them to make it into orbit within a few years. They'll probably do it with less overhead than NASA. One hopes they'll be followed by a legion of competitors, pushing them to improve all the time.

So at this point, it makes sense for NASA to revive the expendible rocket program for manned flight. The technology is old, well-proven, and reliable. And it's probably cheaper, even if you don't reuse everything.

If you go to NASA's home page today, they'll direct you to the new program's press release, flash and video resources. I'm also providing a link here to the plain ol' press release (with pictures). Take a look!

Who's the Mayor of New Orleans?

Look, I agree that it there might have to be a second evacuation of New Orleans, if Rita winds up hitting her. And I'm impressed so far with Allen, the new head of FEMA, as far as his getting his agency's operations running smoothly.

But we have a Federal system. The states are sovereign, except for foreign policy and a few other limited items. The Federal Government cannot stick its nose into the rest. And Allen has got to remember that he's not the mayor of New Orleans. He can't order an evacuation. And on those kinds of big decisions, he's got to remember his place. He can help, but he can't order the people or their government around.

If I lived in New Orleans, I'd be moving back in as quickly as I could. I'd want to get right to work cleaning up my house and property and fixing what had been damaged by the storm or the looters. I'd especially want to get any holes in the roof patched up before Rita came along, so I didn't lose the rest.

Allen's carping on, saying people shouldn't come back because (among other things) there aren't working traffic lights...yeesh! I've driven in parts of town with the traffic lights out before, and people tend to work these things out very well. I've found them to be invariably polite and well-organized about that kind of an intersection. Come on--you just treat it as a four-way stop! Does Allen think that the entire continent was unfit for human habitation, before electricity was invented?!

Again, all this being said, it's going to be harder to get the word out to people if you need to evacuate because of Rita. I'm not saying to return to New Orleans if you've just got to turn back around tomorrow. I'm just saying that the Feds can't run roughshod over the sovereignty of our cities and states. And I'm happy Mayor Nagin reminded him who's boss in the city.

(And all that being said, I'm still not impressed with Nagin's disaster-preparedness or management skills. An honest mayor, yes--he's supposedly been good on the anti-corruption front. Just not a big crisis leader.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Photo-doctoring at CAIR

Oh, my goodness! This is such a shockingly bald-faced fake, I can hardly believe it. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had an interfaith rally in DC, and they posted a photo of it on their webpage. Arrayed behind the lectern are seven people (of, apparently, different faiths), three of them women. In the foreground are three women and a man, all facing the speaker and looking away from the camera. All six of the women in the photo are wearing Moslem headscarves.

Except they aren't. Only two of them were; the other three had "scarves" painted on, in the picture! The apparently East Indian woman behind the speaker has the most obvious fake. I mean, man, you could do better with a ball-point pen than this Photoshop genius did to the digital photo here. I've seen fake goatees and mustaches scrawled onto pictures by elementary-school kids that were more realistic and had more detail.

But that was only the one that tipped people off. Much closer in the foreground are two women who appear to be wearing the same. But both of their "headscarves" are just Photoshop-copied replicas of the one on another woman. In fact, one of the women is blonde.

Now, I'm sure there are blonde Moslems, somewhere in the world, but they're surely few and far between, at least as a percentage. And given that the lady behind the speaker looks East Indian, there's a decent chance she's not Moslem, either. (Actually, India has as many Moslems--even more, until very recently--as Pakistan, but they're a smaller percentage of the total.) So CAIR has taken it upon itself to draw headscarves on three women at an interfaith event who did not choose to wear them.

Well! Sharia will be imposed on you virtually, even if you don't comply in reality!

CAIR has now posted the (apparently--unless people look and find more shennanigans at work, here) undoctored photo on their webpage, and the Google cache has similarly been "updated."

The revelations here come from Jihad Watch, via Instapundit. The much more skilled Photoshop experts at Protest Warrior have done excellent work by creating several different varieties of this fake. My favorite might be the Carmen Miranda fruit-bowl hat, but the Wagnerian Viking helmet is really good, too.

My goodness, CAIR! Can you not tolerate the fact that we infidels don't force our women to cover their hair in public?! You actually have to pretend that any woman, anywhere, in this free country actually wears your religion's headcovering? Sheesh--could you imagine how ridiculous it would be if, say, Hillel held an interfaith event and doctored the photo so all the men seemed to have on yarmulkes? Ooh--or a Mennonite group had the event and Photoshopped in the white bonnets onto all the women's heads!! Or if we Methodists held the event and...well, maybe we'd just Photoshop out the headscarves.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Stupid "International Astronomical Union"!

Ugh! I so hate the IAU (International Astronomical Union). Well, that's too broad a statement, really. The only thing I know about it is that it has proclaimed for itself the sole sovereign power for naming anything in space. Who designated it the authority to do so? It did it, itself. As far as I can tell. Aside from naming things, I never hear the IAU mentioned. They hold some meetings and publish conference proceedings that I've thumbed through, but I don't see them as actively involved as the American Astronomical Society, for instance. Or the Royal Astronomical Society, in Great Britain. Maybe because these publish important journals, they're more on my mind. It also makes them more useful to astronomers.

My latest screed against the IAU comes because of this article in the New York Times (free registration required) about the discoverer of a likely tenth planet around our Sun. Michael Brown is also behind the discoveries of Quoaur and Sedna, two big Kuiper Belt objects (like giant comets-in-waiting) in the past few years. Well, foolish Dr. Brown (I'm being sarcastic, here) made the near-fatal mistake of publicly announcing his tentative name for these after he discovered them. Hold your horses, there, Tex! The IAU has strict rules against this kind of lawbreaking!

How dare the discoverer think that he has any business suggesting a name?! Why, that's solely up to the all-powerful IAU. Sure, the IAU will take months or years to debate the thing before it comes up with its sovereign decision, but it's important to get these things right. After all, chaos would break out if the name were imprudently chosen. And so, in its infinite wisdom, the IAU has passed rules against mere mortal astronomers who "discover" a planet, asteroid, etc., from publicly announcing their suggestion for a name. Why, what evil would happen if the public's tender ears were to hear this name before it had been properly vetted by the IAU? Once again: chaos!!!

Dr. Brown has crossed the IAU twice. Few do this once and live. His fate is hanging by a thread, as it is. He must chose his next move wisely.

When Brown mentioned his idea, "Sedna," to the press after "his" latest discovery, there was such an outcry amongst the right-thinking minions of the IAU that they wanted the Union to spite him by rejecting his proposed name. One janissary even went and pre-empted Brown by submitting the name "Sedna" for an insignificant asteroid.

My conservative/libertarian attitudes make me chafe against the overbearing actions of government, especially in things that are none of the government's business. They also make me chafe against the overbearing actions of any private organization that seeks to rule over people and take for itself the powers of a government.

Actually, I have seen oblique references to some international treaties that set up the IAU. I don't know exactly what they encompass, but for the life of me, I don't see why there has to be a government treaty on the names of asteroids. For goodness' sake, astronomers can set up our conventions on our own time, without needing laws to tell everybody else what we've decided. And no law can force the public (in a free country, like our own) to call anything by any name. I can call "Sedna" by the name "Qvitzelflik," if I feel like it, and nobody can stop me. Of course, no one else will know what I'm talking about, but that's my problem. And that's why conventions are established from common usage, or in this case, from the IAU's decision. But they can't force eveybody else to live with their decision.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Groot Broer

If I did this right, the headline reads, "Big Brother," in Dutch. A chilling news story about the Dutch government opening comprehensive electronic files on all children at birth. The files would contain health, education, family, and police records, and they would track each citizen from birth to death in a centralized database that would let officials look for "red flags" in order to "protect troubled children." Of course. I'd emmigrate, if I had to live under that kind of official nosiness.

Volokh: hero of Scotland?

I was looking up Wallachian in my Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (don't ask why), and I was intrigued to find its roots. OK--first, Wallachia (or Walachia) is the southern region of Rumania. We're talking all the way over in Eastern Europe. And yet the dictionary says that the name, as we have it in English, comes from Mediaeval Latin (Wal(l)achia), from Slavic forms representing Germanic (specifically Old High German) *Walh- (which meant foreigner). Then it says, "cf. Welsh."

Hmmm! OK, under Welsh, we find this word (I mean Welsh, here) is related to Walloon (Interesting! They're the French-speaking Belgians, if I remember right.) and comes from Germanic *wal[kh]az (I'm using [kh] to represent the Greek chi symbol in the pronunciation.), meaning foreign--especially Celtic or Roman. (The Old High German version of this was Walh, as above.) And the Germanic comes from Latin Volcae, the name of a Celtic tribe. It finally notes that the Anglo-Norman version of this name was waleis, which survives today in the personal name Wallace. (Side note--the -wall part of Cornwall comes from the same word as Wales.)

OK, and then it refers us to Vlach. Vlach is a variant spelling of Wal(l)ach (from Wallachian), above. This entry tells us that the Russian spelling of this name is Voloch. I presume that the ch the dictionary uses here is the sound more commonly (and currently) transliterated as kh. Then we've arrived at the name of the lawblogger, Eugene Volokh.

OK, all of this has been a bit convoluted. But the conclusion? Volokh = Wallace. That means Eugene and his brother (etymologically) share a surname with William Wallace, immortalized in the movie Braveheart. I think the Volokh Conspiracy, being the good libertarians that they are, ought to play this up and adopt as a motto, "They may take our lives, but they will never take...our freedom!!!"

What I'd like to hear at the Roberts hearings

"Senator, please put your accusation in the form of a question."

Advice and consent

One other little grammatical point. I read and hear a lot of my fellow conservatives, when criticizing the Democratic senators for fillibustering judicial nominations, say that the senate has the duty to "advise and consent" to the President's nomination. Well, no. The Constitution states that the President shall nominate judges, who take their positions with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.

But that does not mean that the Constitution requires the Senate either to "advise" the President on the nomination or to "consent" to the President's choice. The Constitution's wording means that the nominee becomes a judge if the Senate consents to him. But the Senate is not required to give its consent.

On a minor point, it also does not mean that the Senate is required to give its advice, for that matter. "Advise" is still part of the conditional statement.

Language Pet Peeves

I've been hearing some of my pet peeve words pop up on TV lately, so I'm writing a list of them here, just to spout off.

impact--Two problems: (1) this a noun, never a verb; (2) it refers to something physically smacking into something else--please don't use it to mean "effect"!

partner--noun, not verb.

dialogue--noun, not verb.

...hmmm...I've forgotten the others I wanted to put on this list. I'll post others when I think of them.

Why New Orleans is Below Sea-level

Talked with Figulus last night about why New Orleans is below sea-level in the first place. Turns out (unsurprisingly) that it wasn't below sea level in the first place. Until around the turn of the century (early 1900s), the city was bordered by a lot of swamps (oh, I'm sorry--the environmentally correct term must be "wetlands"!). Every time there'd be a flood, the swamps would turn into a breeding ground for massive numbers of mosquitos, and the city would be hit with a yellow fever epidemic, with lots of people dead. Needless to say, the town fathers were getting a little tired of this. So they drained the swamp early in the 20th century.

Now, they realized that the former swampland would subside after it was drained. Since it was barely above sea-level to begin with, it now sank slightly below sea-level. Rather than let Lake Ponchatrain spread into the newly-dried land, which would defeat the whole point, they put a system of dikes in place to hold the waters back.

OK, so now you have a section of dry land at the edge of New Orleans, not being used for anything. The city hit a boom period, and there were lots of immigrants moving into the area. They often couldn't afford to buy land in the developed area of town, but the reclaimed land was cheaper, so they'd move there and build their houses.

The reclaimed land, having only some minimal dikes, would still flood occasionally, so in 1947(?) they got together with the state and Federal Government to work out the present system of levees, built to withstand a hurricane.

Figulus says they withstood a category 4 hurricane before Katrina and held, so they're pretty good. The risk assessment at the time calculated the chance of a major hurricane hitting them (and breaching?) at being around once in 250 years. That's not bad odds, is it?

The point of all this is that New Orleans wasn't acting stupidly, as some commentators have insinuated, by being (in part) below sea-level. It's not as if the city took a look at the Gulf of Mexico and said, "Hmmm...we'll build...there!" No. They were solving a worse problem. I'd like to sea the relative death tolls from the diseases spread by the swamps and the flooding of this hurricane. I know which caused the larger human suffering.

Friday, September 09, 2005

More on guns in New Orleans

Thinking of my previous post, I saw on Fox News last night a clip of the police trying to force some nice old lady to leave her home, which is above water. She told them no, she wasn't going. That she has food and clean water, and her house is dry. And furthermore, that she has a pistol which she can use to protect herself from looters.

Well, then! They'd had about enough of that!

The next thing I saw, they'd taken the pistol from her, in her own home, and were examining it, as if to see if there was something wrong with it. (It was apparently a small-frame .38 revolver. It's not a technical challenge to examine the thing.) Then they were showing it to the TV camera. And finally, I saw them "escorting" her out of her house, sans pistol. I don't know if they stole the gun or what they did with it. They seemed to be holding onto it an awful lot, though.

So I don't know for sure what happened at the end, but I was certainly left with the impression they'd taken a citizen's own gun from her, from within her own home. I hope this isn't really the case, but I'd have to see more to find out.

Gun Rights Violated in New Orleans?

The Volokh Conspiracy has an ominous-sounding story from the New York Times regarding police in New Orleans seizing legally-owned firearms from refugees, as they evacuate them. Eugene Volokh cites the relevant passage from the Louisiana Constitution, guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms, with the proviso that the state can regulate the carrying of concealed weapons. And it appears that they're letting private security guards carry openly, so why not regular citizens? This is why you don't trust the government with your guns.

Furthermore, it looks like the Federal forces will have a hand in evacuation. Will they be taking citizens' guns away from them, too? Even scarier.

Actually, the most chill-inducing line is this quotation from P. Edwin Compass, the superintendent of police: "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons."


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Federalism in disasters

I'm disappointed in some conservatives I've heard, cavalierly throwing out the idea that the Feds ought to order the states around, in these kinds of disasters. This talk is pretty limited, to be fair. Rush has pointed out the folly of this idea; I think I'm hearing it from some of the second-tier commentators, or maybe it's just the callers.

I looked up the relevant section in the Constitution, and it says that Federal guarantees of protecting states from "domestic violence" can only come upon request from a state's legislature. (Or the governor, if the legislature cannot be convened.) The Feds are put in a secondary role, here. The state is the one to take the initiative.

Disaster relief is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, and I'm not actually in favor of the Federal government providing it, in principle, but since we've been doing it for so many decades, and everybody expects it, so I'm not going to demand we stop right now. But the state must remain the one in charge. City vs. state...that's a debate for each state to have. The city should make the decisions, I believe, with the state providing the material aid and manpower, if necessary. Always remember--the local (city or county) government is the closest to you, and they're the most likely to really care about how you're treated. The state is more remote than your county, but still not too far away. The federal government only cares about you in the abstract.

That being said, and despite some bureaucratic mistakes the Feds made this time, I think the Federal Government still did their own (limited) role better than the city or state did in New Orleans. But that doesn't mean I want them in charge.

More on pets and evacuation

I meant to link to this in my post on pets, below. Instapundit mentions this problem in an update to a long post on "lessons learned." He's not too concerned about leaving pets behind, himself, but he does recognize that other people are. I still think the people forcing refugees to dump their pets are being incredibly cruel and callous. Yes, there are going to be cases where you don't have time to accomodate animals, but clearly we're not in that situation. Not when we've spent over a week dillydallying around with getting people out. There's been plenty of time to help the pets, too.

Below Sea Level Cities

Having just returned from Holland, I have been thinking about this whole fact of New Orleans being built partly below sea level. Lots of people point at this as being a stupid idea, but let's not be so hasty. Large parts of Holland are also below sea level, and I don't hear anybody calling the Dutch names over it.

I am curious why New Orleans did this, though. I have not heard any comprehensive explanation (nor much in the way of partial ones, for that matter), so I'm speculating, here. I see three likely possibilities:

1) It was above sea level when it was built, but the land is slowly sinking.

2) They took a lake and drained it to create new land, then built on that.

3) They took part of the Gulf of Mexico and did a lot of engineering to enclose it, and then they drained that.

In case (1), it's not their fault they're below sea level. In case (2), there are sometimes reasons it's safer to drain such a lake than to leave it as is. In case (3), you take the action with the most known risk, but it's still not necessarily foolhardy.

The Netherlands has done a combination of (2) and (3), from what I understand. As early as the 1500s (I think), four inland lakes had merged into a single, big one, as the result of peat mining (a relatively treeless country, peat was their best source of fuel and heat). This new lake, Haarlemermeer (sp?) ("Lake Harlem"), being close to the sea, picked up and exacerbated weather patterns from the North Sea, and was a real problem for the nearby inhabitants. It started flooding and wiping out lots of villages near its shores. So they decided to drain it. Windmills couldn't easily drain one that big & deep (an early plan conceived of something like 500 windmills), but by the 1800s, steam pumps made it practical. Only three were needed by then. The newly recovered land was below sea level, but a system of canals and dikes kept the water at bay, and pumps kept the land dry. Prime farmland, there. The Amsterdam airport, Schiphol, is in the middle of this former lake. (Schip-hol = ship-hole...this was the spot where a lot of ships kept getting sunk in Lake Harlem.) Now, yes, you do have some flooding risk by building anything there, but they've had less trouble since they drained the lake than they did before.

More recently, the Dutch, I am told, have also expanded their land out into the North Sea, enclosing and then draining sections that were actually in the ocean. In this case, you do put yourself at some risk that you didn't have before, but I think their troubles have been many years between.

So. Which of these are true in the case of New Orleans? Before people arrogantly call those citizens stupid, they should find out what reasons there are for the situation.

Pets and Evacuations

My family and I were talking about the problem of abandoning pets in the Katrina evacuation. Once the hurricane hit, and evacuation was mostly of people who didn't have their own means to leave, the rescuers were forcing people to leave their pets behind. Many were refusing to, and there is one case I've read of a little kid who was so upset he got physically sick and threw up. The person making him evacuate was forcing him to put down his pet.

As my sister and mother both said, if I were told that, I would simply refuse to go at all. "They'd have to shoot me instead," I think one said. I agree. If I were leaving on my own power, and I had plenty of food and water ("facilities") to provide my pets for the entire time I'd be away, I might consider keeping them inside the house on their own, but that would be a last resort, and it's unlikely anything larger than a cat could hold out long enough on the amount of supplies I'd have stocked. And what if you wind up away for months? They'd all die. If told, "You are coming with us, period, and leave the pets to their fates," I'd simply refuse. "Simply" might be an oversimplification, itself. More likely, it would involve a physical struggle.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that rescue efforts need to make some accomodations for pets. It's not only that the pets should objectively be saved for their own sakes, but also that this is in the people's best interests. Think of that poor kid who actually threw up. You have people who are in a terrible state to begin with, and they're mentally and physically drained and at risk of bad health. They're feeling desperate in many cases, and you want to take away the little kid's dog?! What do you think that's going to do to the kid??

I can imagine this as the tragic ending to some wartime melodrama, in which a miserable refugee family is burned out of their home, set upon by marauders and straggling soldiers, flees on foot with their few remaining possessions, nearly starving as they trudge across hostile land in Eastern Europe...and in the final, depressing act, as they're about to reach the safe haven of a neutral country...some idiot border guard shoots the six-year-old girl's kitten.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Annoying comments on Katrina and New Orleans

I'm ticked off by the comments out of some, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a number of callers to radio talk shows, that Federal relief money shouldn't be going to rebuild New Orleans, since much of it is below sea level. Actually, I think Speaker Hastert's comments weren't exactly that, but it is still an inappropriate time to be saying what he did. It's awfully easy to go around suggesting that somebody else should move away from his home and land. I see these kinds of comments occasionally from people who have few or weak ties to any place, and who do not understand how people can feel bound to a place, and I don't have any respect for that flippant attitude.

Yes, much of New Orleans is below sea level. Yes, that involves certain risks. Holland has been doing this for...what? half a millennium? (Gee--let's just tell all the Dutch they should up and move to higher ground, too. Say...Germany.) New Orleans has been around for hundreds of years (I don't know the founding date, but I'm guessing it would be the early 1700s.), and somehow it's after it gets hit with this one hurricane that these Monday-night quarterbacks come forward with their helpful advice that people in New Orleans are stupid for living where they do and that the rest of us shouldn't be helping out, or that the help should only come with strings attached.

Why, just make them move somewhere else! What a simple solution! Who could possibly object? After all, they knew it was a bad idea to live there in the first place, right?

Serious devastation once in 300 years--that's not a suicidally high risk factor, in my estimation. People who go around saying that nobody should live in a place that was liable to this kind of damage aren't thinking all that clearly. Again: I'm going on a risk factor of 1/300, yearly. What about other cities along the Gulf Coast? Galveston was hit in 1900, with 8,000-12,000 dead (let's pray the toll from this hurricane isn't that high). Florida is a regular target of hurricanes, as are the coastal cities of the Carolinas and even Virginia. What about the Caribbean islands? I mean, how many times do people have to rebuild Puerto Rico before they figure out they should just move to someplace away from the ocean, like Fargo? (Heavy sarcasm here, of course.) Oh, of course, we also need to think of other disaster-prone areas. All the region along the Mississippi River should be evacuated, because it floods. Why live in a flood plain? For that matter, there are rivers all through the country that flood and wipe out people's houses. So no cities near rivers! That cuts out downtown Pittsburgh. What idiot builds a city near a river?!! (Again, with the sarcasm.) Then there are earthquakes. No human habitation should be allowed in California generally. Man, are we going to be asked to rebuild San Francisco every time it gets hit? After 1906, nobody should have been so dumb as to live there! And don't forget the New Madrid fault. Memphis is just asking for it. In college there, we had an earthquake prediction scare (not fulfilled, thankfully) that was getting lots of us to make escape plans, making parents want to bring their kids home, and the school was not counting attendance! And the fault is still there and ready to let loose The Big One before too many years! So no fair living anywhere between Saint Louis and Memphis, inclusive. And Anchorage, Alaska, too. I mean, they had a magnitude 9 hit them back in the '60s, and there was hardly anything left in some neighborhoods. So away and done with the main city in the state! Volcanoes. How many Washington state cities are threatened by at least mudslides if their volcanoes erupt? National Geographic had a revealing map showing where flooding, mud, ash, and lava would go if one of these erupted. Other mudslides--California. Boy, that's almost seasonal, there. And the fires, too. Don't let anybody in this country live near trees. You're simply asking for it. I mean, should firemen have to risk their lives to save yours because you had this frivolous desire to have shade on your house? That goes for the whole country. No trees near houses. Or better, no houses near trees. Tidal waves: I remember seeing warning signs all over Hawai'i about these. It's not only Indonesia that gets them, remember--other areas of the Pacific are much more threatened. And I hear that if one island volcano in the Caribbean goes, most of the Atlantic is in much bigger trouble from a tidal wave. Who wants to take bets on their safety? And as far as not structural damage, but human deaths goes, keep in mind heat waves and blizzards. Oh, oh--I almost forgot tornadoes! That eliminates all habitation in the midwest and much of the South. Thank goodness those people in places like Pittsburgh and Maryland are, wait, both have been hit with tornadoes in recent years, too. So cut them out, as well. I mean, even College Park had one come right through campus. Better to relocate UMd to Denver or someplace. Also, there's terrorism. Everybody knows al Qaeda would love to hit D.C., being the capital and all. Who thinks it's unlikely that over the next 300 years, no terrorist will kill much of anybody (dirty bomb, biological agents, what have you) in our country's capital? Show of hands? Then move out.

What are we left with? Not much. Everybody with a risk factor greater than 1 in 300 years should pack up and move to whatever places I haven't already mentioned. Or at least don't come crying to the rest of us and expect us to bail you out the same way we do other places when they're hit. We have no mercy for people who have such sentimental attachments to their homes, their land, their cities, or regions, that they won't immediately pack up and move to someplace that will never, ever be damaged. Or if we do bail you out, it's only on the condition that you move away or put your house up on stilts or something.

Sorry for the angry sarcasm of this post, but I absolutely hate the "Well, they had it coming" remarks of a lot of people I'm hearing this week. Mark Levin on NRO's The Corner had it right. Let's relieve New Orleans, Mobile, Gulf Port, and the area as we have other places in other disasters, and not carp on how they shouldn't be living there. I have Constitutional objections to certain kinds of Federal relief, but we have gotten used to providing it, and we shouldn't decide ex post facto that no, now is the time we're going to start going by the book on these things, especially when the agencies that do this are already set up. I have no objection to the Feds going in and helping, in practice.

They shouldn't override state efforts, of course, but should be in assistance of them, with the state being the one in charge. Note that even in the Constitution's provision that the Federal Government protect a state from domestic violence, it can only come upon petition from the state's legislature (or executive, if the legislature cannot convene)! The Feds can't just barge in on their own and take charge.

Furthermore, this aid should not come with strings attached. None of this idea that if we help out, people have to leave and move to higher ground to rebuild. OK, so now you want the Federal Government to order the depopulation of an entire major city? It's none of our business where somebody else decides to live. Yes, we're giving aid, but we do it elsewhere already, and you can't go and demand conditions after the disaster, when you didn't lay them out before. If "everybody knew" this was coming, and that's your excuse, then why didn't you make these conditions beforehand? Sounds like the people carping on this now really weren't thinking this would happen, either.

Enough of this.

Hurricane Relief--where to donate

I have little original to contribute to the discussion of hurricane Katrina. The most useful thing I can do right now is to write about where people can go to contribute to the relief efforts. In this, I can do no better than link to Instapundit's excellent list of charities and relief agencies. Our great thanks to Glenn Reynolds for posting such a helpful list.

Being a Southerner and having gone to college here, I of course have a lot of friends from the devastated area. Let's all help out in what ways we can, and do not forget your prayers for all those who have died, those who have survived, and those whose fates are not yet secure.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet is Habitat for Humanity. I expect that their services are going to be called on heavily in the months and years to come, along the Gulf Coast. Here is a link to their home page, and I see that they do have something up already on hurricane relief work. Remember that they take both money and volunteers. There's a lot of manpower involved in building a house.