Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 23rd, 2009

Afternoon report

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My roast chicken with Meyer lemons is now in the oven, and the Swiss chard is cooking. I got some nice kumquats yesterday, and I cut a few in half lengthways and tossed them in to sauté with the onion in the olive oil. Once they were cooking, in goes the washed and chopped chard, along with a dash of soy sauce, mirin, and water, and the lid goes on for it to cook over low heat. Lots of ground pepper and some homemade pepper sauce went into the dish as well.

UPDATE: My God, the chard was good!

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 1:25 pm

Paul Krugman, fighting ignorance

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There’s so much of it, including ignorance in people who really, really should know better. Read his blog posts here and here and marvel at the ignorance of conservative economists.

UPDATE: Links fixed. (They were both going to the same post; the first link above is now new.)

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23 January 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

Americans want infrastructure spending

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Very good post by Steve Benen:

A couple of weeks ago, Gallup conducted a poll on public attitudes towards a stimulus package. The single most popular aspect of a possible rescue plan? Government spending on infrastructure, which enjoyed 78% support, and came out on top among Americans of every party and ideology.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz has been doing similar tests of public opinion, and has found similar results: Americans really care about infrastructure.

I’m a pollster and political consultant associated with Republican causes: the Contract with America, the "death tax" and, of course, ending wasteful Washington spending. So why am I behind the new stimulus legislation — the biggest spending bill ever to be considered by Congress? Maybe because when it comes to some things — crumbling schools, overcrowded highways, an ineffective energy system, clean-water facilities that don’t clean water and trains and planes that are always late — we’re all on the same side.

Last month, I conducted a national survey of 800 registered voters on their attitudes toward infrastructure investment…. The survey’s findings were unlike any other issue I have polled in more than a decade. Iraq, healthcare, taxes, education — they all predictably divide and polarize Americans into political camps. Not infrastructure.

Consider this: A near unanimous 94% of Americans are concerned about our nation’s infrastructure. And this concern cuts across all regions of the country and across urban, suburban and rural communities.

Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government — and 83% wants more spent by state governments — to improve America’s infrastructure.

How strong is the support? Luntz found that Americans are prepared to pay (cue scary music) higher taxes for more infrastructure investment. Luntz was further shocked to find that three out of four Republicans would accept such a trade off.

Better yet, Luntz found that Americans "understand that infrastructure is not just roads, bridges and rails. In fact, they rated fixing energy facilities as their highest priority. Roads and highways scored second, and clean-water treatment facilities third."

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Call to action from Marijuana Policy Project

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Received via email:

Yesterday — with the leadership of the Department of Justice in flux while Attorney General-designate Eric Holder awaits confirmation by the Senate — Bush administration holdovers raided a medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe, California.

President Obama vowed repeatedly during his campaign to stop such raids if elected, and we have every reason to believe he will make good on that promise. However, four top positions at the DEA are still filled by Bush cronies, who are attempting to undercut the president’s pledge.

Would you please take one minute to use MPP’s easy online system to e-mail the president and ask him to get his new leadership in place at the DEA quickly, so that these cruel and outdated policies finally end?

President Obama has promised that arresting patients and raiding clinics in states where medical marijuana is legal won’t be acceptable on his watch. Getting political appointees in place takes time, but yesterday the Bush holdovers showed that we must move swiftly.

Please write the White House today to urge the president to quickly place his new leaders at the DEA.

You can see some of the statements the president has made about medical marijuana (generally in response to questions from MPP) here.

Please send your e-mail right away. (You can also call the White House at 202-456-1111.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 11:23 am

Web 2.0 in a high school classroom

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This is pretty cool:

High school biology teacher Stacy Baker was sick of waiting by the photocopier to make handouts for her students. So in 2006, she launched a website, missbakersbiologyclass.com, to serve as central repository for class notes, pictures, and extra credit assignments.

At first, the site was simply an online extension of her classroom, and information flowed strictly one-way: teacher to pupils. But Baker wanted the site to be more than that; she wanted to engage her students in the full interactive potential of the Internet. So she transformed the site into a participatory blog, and let her students take it over.

Baker, 29, taught her ninth grade and advance placement (AP) biology students at Calverton School in Huntingtown, Maryland some Internet basics — including how to hyperlink and where to find copyright-free pictures — and suggested a few good life sciences-related websites. “From there, I just backed off and waited to see what they’d do with it,” Baker told The Scientist.

The students ran with the idea. First, they voted to name the site’s blog feature “Extreme Biology.” Then, the 40-odd freshmen and nine AP students started posting research-related stories and commenting on each other’s pieces. A scientific dialogue ensued. “I didn’t want to turn it into a typical report you do in school,” said Baker. “I wanted it to be a lot more exciting than that.”

And it wasn’t just the students who got excited. Educational bloggers around the world took notice of the site, and in 2008, Extreme Biology took home an Edublog Award for the best class blog.

Continue reading.

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23 January 2009 at 10:06 am

Cool science experiments for The Older Grandson

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The Older Grandson is going great guns in his science classes—his mum, The Eldest, has emphasized and showed him the pleasure of entering school knowing that you have really done good work and are fully prepared, and that it’s just a matter of work and planning. Her vivid image is the awful feeling in your stomach as you walk up the school steps knowing that the work you did is not very good or complete—how much nicer it is to bound up the steps feeling great about what you’re bringing in. Emphasizing both work and intrinsic rewards is doing a very good thing for him. He feels like he’s a good worker (true), not simply very intelligent (also true, but that’s not the focus).

At any rate, I thought immediately of him (and her) when I read about these three cool science experiments in MakeUseOf.com.

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23 January 2009 at 9:46 am

Kid’s plate catches on

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I’ve blogged about my discovery of using a kid’s plate, and about how it works (here and here—and you can find other mentions by searching on “kid’s plate”). Now the Kitchn [sic] has a post describing a grown-up version, though more expensive (mine was $3.50, theirs is $13.59). Still, theirs looks pretty good. I’ll add it to my birthday wishlist.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 9:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Merrill Lynch: scum of the earth

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David Kurtz of TalkingPointsMemo hears from a reader:

You really should take a look at disclosure this morning regarding the payment by Merrill Lynch of $3-4 billion in bonuses in late December, just ahead of the closing of the acquisition by Bank of America.

John Thain, former head of Merrill and now formerly with BofA (fired today), paid the bonuses earlier than they are normally paid (late January, February) because he knew that once the BofA deal closed, he would be unable to "reward" all those hardworking Merrill bankers and traders who lost a mere $27 billion in 2008 ($15 billion in just the fourth quarter), and whose company needed an injection of another $10 billion of government capital and $118 billion of government backstops in order to convince BofA to follow through with the 12/31/08 acquisition. Without that capital and backstop, no BofA deal, and certain bankruptcy for Merrill and its fine crew of bankers and traders.

I worked on Wall Street for 15 years, and was laid off late last year. I can tell you this for sure: you don’t need to pay a dime in bonus to anyone on Wall Street these days. I know this firsthand: there’s nowhere to go!

Where would a Merrill banker unhappy with a donut for a bonus go? Lehman? Bear? Bank of America? There are no jobs on Wall Street, there are no jobs on Main Street (and certainly none that will even pay close to what these guys earn just in salary; my salary alone put me in the 99+ percentile in income).

These guys aren’t going to leave Merrill because of no bonus to become CEOs, law firm partners, or MLB shortstops. They’ll do what every single person I know on Wall Street that still has a job: they’ll keep their heads down and hope the next round of layoffs doesn’t include them.

One last thing: this is, I think, would be a perfect situation for Obama to discuss specifically. Merrill bankers and traders making off with $3-4 billion days before taxpayers are "required" to put up another $128 billion in capital and backstops, thanks to the fine work of those bankers and traders? Come on…enough is enough.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 9:11 am

Posted in Business, Government

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The problem with the Army Field Manual

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Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is worried that the Special Task Force on interrogation procedures and the Army Field Manual may end up recommending torture again. I think this is not likely, given that the Special Task Force will speak with actual experts in interrogation, who universally believe that torture simply is not efficient nor effective in gleaning reliable intelligence. But it’s a possibility I suppose.

A more likely problem is that the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual can also be used to torture people, if the procedures all are carried out simultaneously, as bmaz points out in this important post, which begins:

In an earlier post I discussed the startling direct admission that the United States tortures terror detainees made public in last Wednesday’s blockbuster Bob Woodward piece in the Washington Post. As the Bush Administration’s hand picked convening authority for the military tribunals, otherwise known as the “Gitmo Show Trials”, Susan Crawford’s admission carries the binding mark of credibility.

In this post, I want to explain the troublesome ramifications Crawford’s admission carries for the provisions in the Army Field Manual regarding the treatment and interrogation of detainees. And the Army Field Manual is a singularly important frame of reference because President-Elect Barack Obama famously staked his claim to being a torture reformer during the election by promising to restrict US detainee interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army Field Manual. President-Elect Obama is holding true to his word.

The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said.

… However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said.

This is where Susan Crawford’s stark admission comes into play. As Crawford admits, most all of the techniques used on al-Qahtani were actually permissible, but the layering of techniques compounded them into unmistakable torture…

Continue reading.

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23 January 2009 at 9:06 am

More on bailout

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David Sirota at OpenLeft:

The U.S. House today publicly rebuked the Obama administration’s economic team, voting overwhelmingly to disapprove the second half of the Wall Street bailout money that Obama has been demanding. Because this resolution of disapproval was rejected by the Senate, the House’s vote does not have the force of law (both chambers would have needed to pass the bill in order to block the money). However, this is a major victory for the progressive movement in that the House has formally gone on record against kleptocracy.

What’s great about this vote is its juxtaposition of true bipartisanship with Beltway buypartisanship. Indeed, as the roll call shows, the House vote for the resolution of disapproval forged a coalition of about a third of the Democratic caucus, and most of the Republican conference – all voting for a progressive cause: namely, preventing Wall Street from ripping off the American taxpayer. Though we are led by the media to believe that “centrism” means corporatism, this vote is the kind of populist bipartisan coalition that reflects the real centrism in the country at large – a centrism where the “center” is decidedly against letting big corporations raid the federal treasury.Couple this vote with the House’s vote yesterday to …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 8:54 am

Posted in Business, Congress

Incompetence in government: a Bush Administration specialty

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Take a look at this article:

Two years after a politically embarrassing $1 billion shortfall that imperiled veterans health care, the Veterans Affairs Department is still lowballing budget estimates to Congress to keep its spending down, government investigators say.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, set to be released Friday, highlights the Bush administration’s problems in planning for the treatment of veterans that President Barack Obama has pledged to fix. It found the VA’s long-term budget plan for the rehabilitation of veterans in nursing homes, hospices and community centers to be flawed, failing to account for tens of thousands of patients and understating costs by millions of dollars.

In its strategic plan covering 2007 to 2013, the VA inflated the number of veterans it would treat at hospices and community centers based on a questionably low budget, the investigators concluded. At the same time, they said, the VA didn’t account for roughly 25,000 — or nearly three-quarters — of its patients who receive treatment at nursing homes operated by the VA and state governments each year.

“VA’s use, without explanation, of cost assumptions and a workload projection that appear unrealistic raises questions about both the reliability of VA’s spending estimates and the extent to which VA is closing previously identified gaps in noninstitutional long-term care services,” according to the 34-page draft report obtained by The Associated Press.

According to latest GAO report, the VA is believed to have:

  • Undercut its 2009 budget estimate for nursing home care by roughly $112 million. It noted the VA planned for $4 billion in spending, up $108 million from the previous year, based largely on a projected 2.5 percent increase in costs. But previously, the VA had actually seen an annual cost increase of 5.5 percent.
  • Underestimated costs of care in noninstitutional settings such as hospices by up to $144 million. The VA assumed costs would not increase in 2009, even though in recent years the cost of providing a day of noninstitutional care increased by 19 percent.
  • Overstated the amount of noninstitutional care. The VA projected a 38 percent increase in patient workload in 2009, partly in response to previous GAO and inspector general reports that found widespread gaps in services and urged greater use of the facilities. But for unknown reasons, veterans served in recent years actually decreased slightly, and the VA offered no explanation as to how it planned to get higher enrollment.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 8:49 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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Caramelized Onions

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From Simply Recipes, which describes the process in detail, with quite a few photos. It must be caramelized onion time: Russ Parsons of the LA Times had an article earlier this week, with his own hints. I once tried caramelizing onions in a crockpot. They turned brown and reduced, but they were not caramelized: not enough heat, I suspect.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Caramelized Onions“, posted with vodpod

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23 January 2009 at 8:40 am

Best store-bought chicken stocks

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Via Slashfood, this post summarizes the testing and lists the winners—one of which I almost bought yesterday for the chicken with orzo. Dang.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 8:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Frugal Food & Fitness

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SquawkFox offers a free eBook, Frugal Food & Fitness, that looks quite good—I just downloaded it and in looking through already have found some good stuff. And it’s free, so what’s the prob?

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23 January 2009 at 8:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Tagged with

Obama’s scorecard to date

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From the St. Petersburg Times Obameter:

7 promises

At the link, you can click “Promise Kept” and see the 7 promises already fulfilled.

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23 January 2009 at 8:20 am

Digby on the Beltway Elite

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The Beltway Elite, a.k.a. the Establishment, the Pundits, the Villagers, along with less complimentary names, sincerely believes that it represents the views of America as a whole. (Talk about ignorance—and their determination to keep it pristine means that they talk only to each other thus get the comfortable feeling that “everyone they talk to” agrees with them. Cf. Andrea Mitchell’s assertion that “Most people want Scooter Libby to get a pardon” the day after a poll showed that 70% of a representative sample of the country did NOT want Libby pardoned, while only 19% wanted the pardon.)

At any rate, Digby has an excellent post showing how the Beltway Elite are chattering to each other to reassure themselves that torture will not be abandoned, despite President Obama’s (how I love to type that) executive order to the contrary, because the American people want us to torture our enemies. The Beltway Elite—shoutout to the Franklin Mint—would be a great collectible set of small ceramic busts: the Self-Followers.

The point: read Digby’s post.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Media, Obama administration

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Ignorance: a widespread problem

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John Sarkissian, one-time tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, once observed that the life of an ignorance fighter is hard. And indeed it is: the volume of ignorance is astonishing, though less astonishing than the vigor with which many people fight to keep their ignorance. I have quite a bit of ignorance myself, but I at least—probably like you—continually work to extirpate my ignorance through reading and study. Indeed, I learn new things daily, displacing a little more ignorance.

What is it that makes some people fearful of knowledge, protective of their ignorance? I don’t think it’s a natural thing: learning, as this post points out, is fun and rewards the learner with a little shot of dopamine. That may be a clue: as Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food, our culture in the US includes for many a strong distaste for pleasure, as in eating for pleasure—just one of the pleasures that a certain outlook views with distaste, along with pleasures of sex, inebriation, sensuality, and the like: learning could be another proscribed pleasure.

At any rate, here is Glenn Greenwald, taking up arms against ignorance once more:

There are times when the glaring ignorance one encounters from people who are paid to write about political issues is so severe — so illustrative of how distorted and misleading our political discourse is — that it’s impossible to ignore even though one would really like to.  Let’s just spend a moment marveling at this paragraph written yesterday by The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle, the sum total of her commentary on Obama’s suspension of military commissions at Guantanamo:

A little confused

Everyone’s hailing Obama’s decision to suspend all Guantanamo trials for 120 days. But I thought the problem with Guantanamo was the people being held without trial. Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (sic) was being tried by the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice], which as far as I know, is what you’re supposed to use on enemy combatants accused of war crimes. Doesn’t this just further prolong the incarceration of anyone who might be innocent?

After she wrote that, Glenn Reynolds — an actual law professor at the University of Tennessee and a right-wing blogger — not only linked to it but praised McArdle for — as he put it, upper-case letters and all — "ASKING THE UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS."

Despite the fact that it’s only 74 words, one could spend hours highlighting the factual inaccuracies in McArdle’s "uncomfortable question."  The point isn’t that what she said is wrong.  Everyone makes factual errors.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s that there is no way to think or write any of what she wrote if one has been paying even the slightest attention to these matters, and if one hasn’t been, then one shouldn’t be writing about them (or linking to and praising such writings).

To begin with, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not "being tried by the UCMJ."  And that’s not an ancillary or technical issue.  That’s the whole point of the military commissions controversy.  They could have tried Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts or in standard courts-martial proceedings governed by the UCMJ.  Instead, they created an entirely new process of "military commissions" that were explicitly not governed by the rules and safeguards of the UCMJ. 

In fact, the Military Commissions Act (.pdf), pursuant to which Guantanamo military commissions are conducted after the Supreme Court’s 2006 Hamdan ruling, explicitly states in numerous provisions that various critical safeguards and procedural rights afforded by the UCMJ do not apply to detainees tried at Guantanamo (see e.g., 948b (c) and (d)).  The most notable (though far from only) example is that the Military Commissions Act expressly allows the use of evidence obtained through coercion (see 948r), whereas the UCMJ explicitly bars the use of such evidence (830 Art. 30(d)): …

Continue reading.

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23 January 2009 at 7:47 am

Insanity and evolution

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Evolution (the topic, not the process) seems to trigger insanity in some people who ostensibly are educated. The Texas State Board of Education is currently trying to set standards for science education. You would think that evolution, the basic process that life follows always and everywhere and that is basic to the understanding of the the biological sciences, would be a foundation bedrock, but some people “disbelieve” it, as though it were a matter of faith rather than evidence. This disbelief is based, not on logic or reasoning or evidence, but on simple assertions—see this brief video for a comic example. (I particularly like the line “… or any planet, for that matter,” showing open-mindedness. 🙂 )

And now the education of the children of Texas is in the hands of people like Dr. McLeroy:

The chairman of the board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist, pushed in 2003 for a more skeptical version of evolution to be presented in the state’s textbooks, but could not get a majority to vote with him. Dr. McLeroy has said he does not believe in Darwin’s theory and thinks that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event, thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion as scientists contend.

Unmentioned is that scientists didn’t just come up with that age and decide everyone should believe it—they discovered that fact, forced to acknowledge it by observation and experiment.

The whole sad story can be read here. Texas unfortunately has many, many ignorant people who provide support for this nonsense. And it seems to be self-perpetuating: ignorant people devoutly want their children to be ignorant as well. Uppity kids, who know more than their parents, are an abomination to these people.

UPDATE: Texas dodged the bullet. From an email sent by the Center for American Progress:

Yesterday, Texas’s state board of education voted 8-1 against an amendment that would have maintained discussion of evolution’s “strengths and weaknesses” in Texas classrooms. The phrase had been included in the state biology curriculum until a panel of teachers proposed removing it last September.  Predictably, social conservatives “lobbied heavily” against the change. Board member Cynthia Dunbar (R) made the motion for the amendment, which was defeated by a vote of  eight-to-seven.  The vote was particularly significant because “Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.” As a result, other states are often forced to comply with Texas’s standards. Dunbar claimed that the debate over “strengths and weaknesses” was not an issue of religion, but rather of free speech. Fellow board member Ken Mercer (R) argued that removing the controversial language from the curriculum constituted persecution against Christians. But supporters of the change say that “strengths and weaknesses” is simply a slogan designed to sneak creationism into classrooms. “These weaknesses that they bring forward are decades old, and they have been refuted many, many times over,” said Kevin Fisher, former president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas. “It’s an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution.”

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23 January 2009 at 7:24 am

Morning report

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I made this recipe last night, and it was perfect for a chilly, rainy night. It was actually a little bland, but that works when you’re eating comfort food, which is what this is. I used chicken thighs rather than drumsticks.

I watched The Amateurs, which indeed was an enjoyable comedy for adults—it’s not exactly a sex comedy, but it doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex by any means.

The more I read of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the more I want other people to read it.

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23 January 2009 at 7:01 am

Inhofe believes that his view of global warming has prevailed

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ThinkProgress:

On his radio show this morning, conservative talker Bill Bennett hosted the most prominent global warming denier in Congress, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Opening up the conversation on the subject, Bennett declared, “I think you’ve prevailed on this.”

“I really believe it,” replied Inhofe, claiming that his opponents “won’t say global warming any more, they’re trying to say climate change.” He added that he thinks former Vice President Al Gore is “getting nervous” because, he claimed, “the science is totally changed.” Inhofe then claimed that more scientists are skeptical of climate change than those who believe in it:

INHOFE: So the science, the science is totally changed. It was the IPCC, those Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the United Nations. But keep in mind, the only report you get from them is their summary for policy docs. And those are not scientists. There’s only 52 scientists that signed on to those, to that, as opposed to what? Some 650 who now have rebuked that.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Inhofe’s comments are loose with the facts. The 52 scientists he refers to prepared the 2007 IPCC report’s “Summary for Policymakers,” but the report itself was “a synthesis of thousands of scientific papers” and was built on the work of “2500 scientists over six years.” As for Inhofe’s discredited 650 skeptical “experts,” some of them actually support the theory of manmade global warming.

Further proving the fallacy of Inhofe’s claims, a survey of 3,146 earth scientists released earlier this week found that 90 percent believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels and 82 percent believe that human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. Ninety-seven percent of climatologists said humans play a role.

Transcript at the link, where you can also listen to the interview.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2009 at 6:57 am

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