The Electric Commentary

Friday, May 28, 2004

WHY DID THEY CALL IT THE PATRIOT ACT?

Apparently the PR department at the white house was off buying velvet fabric to cover up naked statues the day the USA Patriot Act was introduced because of all of the things wrong with it, the name is the most serious.

People fear and revile the USA Patriot Act even though most can not tell you what it does. It primarily does two (2) things.

1. Allows for information sharing between the CIA, which only has jurisdiction over foreign matters, and the FBI, which only has jurisdiction over national matters. Before the Patriot Act, if something was classified in the CIA, the FBI could not get it. This led to the absurd conclusion that if you were suspected of international terrorism, all that you had to do to get off of the CIA's radar was move to the US! Now the FBI and CIA share files freely, although there is still room for a great deal of intelligence reform.

2. Allows for wire-tapping and surveillance of suspected terrorists equal to that which can be carried out against organized crime. Basically, Tony Soprano = Osama Bin Laden.

That's pretty much it. It doesn't allow for any special detention of US citizens. That, the president came up with on his own. It does allow the government to get some suspect warrants for medical records, and many other public records. While these are legitimate privacy concerns, these provisions should just be removed, leaving the rest of the act intact.

But who decided to call this the Patriot Act? What has it to do with Patriotism? Many, many, many people get very upset, and justifiably so, when their patriotism is questioned. Many, many, many people also get scared when the government tries to justify suspect, oppressive laws by casting dissenters as anti-American communist Nazi sympathizers who like to kick puppies on the side. The very name, USA Patriot Act basically does this to half of the population.

Think about it. Would this law produce the vitriolic responses that it does if it was called the CIA-FBI Reconciliation Act, or the Terrorism Wiretapping And Surveillance Modification Act? Of course not. For one thing, newspeople would get sick of saying the name. But it would also clearly reflect the substance of the law. The name now is propaganda. It should have been informative. That way, those who questioned it, would have had to specify exactly what they were objecting to. Instead the good parts are lumped in with the bad, and needed anti-terrorism measures may eventually be repealed.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Not if you called it fartweed.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

IT IS WORTH NOTING...

We have actually lived our lives in a prolonged "cooler than average" period, so some warming is natural. There are many factors besides man that contribute to global climate change. One of these appears to be sunspot activity. A survey was recently conducted of a patch of glacial ice from the northern arctic. The scientists in question drilled a deep sample of glacial ice, the deepest portions of which are believed to be several thousand years old. Because the temperature of the world produces different chemical mixtures in the atmosphere, the content of ice from different time periods reveals a lot about the climate of that period. One of the more important discoveries is that the sun experienced increased sun spot activity about 800 to 600 years ago. During that period, the earth was unusually warm, and Greenland became farmable. Because of this, Scandinavian explorers were able to make the first trans-Atlantic voyage several hundred years before Columbus.

What followed this period was a period of colder than average weather. This has been cause for some confusion, but the most prominent theory is that a slight increase in temperature leads to increased snowfall at the poles. This accumulated snowfall covers more area than normal. Because snow is white, it reflects light (and heat) back into space, causing global cooling. This is unproven, but plausible.

None of these temperature changes was any more or less catastrophic than "normal" weather. The Earth regulates itself very well. Just remember this next time you hear news of impending environmental disaster.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

ENVIRON-MENTAL

On the front page of McPaper (AKA USA Today) is a picture from the upcoming movie "The Day After Tomorrow" with a caption stating that this movie will cause political debate. This is now officially out of hand. Global warming is a serious problem and associating it with a movie undermines it's seriousness. It also provides fodder for right wing anti-enviros. And the premise of this movie is ridiculous. The gulf stream will not shut down over the span of a few days (if at all). Hurricanes will not hit the middle of Europe. Northern Hemisphere locations will not freeze.

I have no problem with movies like this as entertainment, but that is where it should end. Can you imagine if the nation suddenly developed a policy on how to deal with extra-terrestrials (this policy actually exists, incidentally, just in case) based on the movie "Independence Day"? What about all of the people in the E.T. camp? They would be disenfranchised. Perhaps sharks should lose threatened species status because of Jaws. Or we could shut down summer camps because of Friday the 13th (or keep them open due to Meatballs).

While almost all environmental trends in the western world are positive, global warming is the one area that is still getting worse (although not as quickly as it once was). This is troublesome not because it would cause some great disaster, but because we don't know what it would do. This is scary. And since the world is in OK shape now, hastening it's transition would be an unnecessary risk. The US gets guf for not signing the much ballyhooed but truly worthless and expensive Kyoto Treaty, while Russia gets a free pass for ducking the same treaty. The US simply despises the poor economics and loss of sovereignty that the treaty demands, as well as the act that it would have little to no environmental benefits. Russia on the other hand WANTS GLOBAL WARMING!!! (Note: Gregg Easterbrook wrote on this, but he stopped blogging for TNR, so I can't link to my source. You'll have to trust me on it). Think about it. A large portion of Russia is unusable tundra, and the torture prison business that made use of that area has been way down since communism fell (although it's been making a resurgence lately). A little warming might turn them into an economic dynamo.

The US could be better about greenhouse gases. The fuel economy of cars could be 100% better with existing technology. Power plants could decrease emissions significantly. But we are on the right track. Bill Clinton's administration succeeded in bringing pollution (especially smog) to a more reasonable level, as well as preserving the Super Fund initiative (allows those hurt by poisonous dumping to sue an entire industry for cleanup in the event the perpetrator can not be discovered.) The Bush administration has increased standards on Diesel fuel and Diesel vehicles (in direct contrast to his big oil buddies) passed tough new mercury standards, and presented a rather brilliant power plant reform bill, known as Clear Skies, that utilized pollution credits. It would have reduced power plant emissions by 70% in under 5 years. It was blocked by environmental lefties who's stance is that pollution is not a tradable commodity. And this brings us to the ultimate point.

Scare tactics undermine the cause of environmentalism. Super Fund cases have declined steadily over the last 10 years, and enviros have complained! They say tighter restrictions are necessary. But this is good news! There is less pollution and less dumping.

Then movies like this get made implying that disaster is close at hand. The implication is that costly measures should be taken to curb green house gases at ANY COST. And cost analysis is always what is missing from the equation. The US is seen as the big offender, and with respect to greenhouse gases, this is largely true, but in all other forms of pollution we are a paragon of virtue. A few minor adjustments are all that is necessary for greenhouses gases to join the list of outdated threats. And you can see it happening already.

Hybrid cars have been a great success (Japan's high gas prices have everything to do with this development, incidentally). Power plants improve every year. Nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gases, has experienced a rebirth in Europe due to stunning tech advances which make meltdowns impossible. Hydrogen is almost viable as a fuel.

And it is important that the US achieve this before the third world reaches the fossil fuel stage. If you think that warming is a problem now, just wait until China and India are affluent enough to have wide spread car use. This is already happening in some Chinese cities, where bikes are now the rarity. This phenomenon is partially responsible for current gas prices. Many enviros urge us to go backwards and give up our cars and our power. But the rest of the world will not hold in their current pattern. We must do better, so that they may do better.

Finally, if anyone makes any argument to you based on this movie, kindly remind them that the movie is based on the book "The Coming Global Storm" by Art Bell. Art Bell used to be the radio host of Coast to Coast AM, a late night conspiracy talk show that aired from midnight to 5 AM (and still does with a new host). It's a forum for every crackpot wack job out there. And Art Bell was no exception to this. Now I must go. My lunch break is long since over.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sorry to harp on Michael Moore…

But harp I must. He won first prize at the Cannes film festival, for his upcoming “documentary” Fahrenheit 911. I obviously have not seen the film yet, so my comments are based only on what I’ve read about it. But I have read quite a lot. Perhaps it is a great work of film making apart from its message. This is entirely possible, as Mr. Moore’s first movie, “Roger and Me” was clever and proved that he could handle a camera, even if it’s message was stupid. I find it much more likely that this upcoming movie will be a “Mad Lib” of Bowling for Columbine. Insert noun of something liberals hate here. Last time it was guns, this time it’s Bush. Bush deserves criticism. That is fair enough. But if Mr. Moore employs the intellectual dishonesty used in his last few books and in Bowling for Columbine, he will likely fail to inspire everyone that is not already in his camp.

All of this aside, is there anyone, and I mean one single person in the world, who for a second thinks that Michael Moore would have won this award if not for the subject of his film. Purportedly Quentin Tarantino made a point of telling Michael upon his acceptance of the award that the subject matter had nothing to do with it. That he was being rewarded for a great film. What a crock. Think about this. Bowling for Columbine, rightly or wrongly (note: the correct answer is wrongly.) won an Oscar for best documentary. Was it even close to winning best picture? How many films would have won best picture before BFC? 50? 300? Yet here at Cannes, which purportedly did not lack for complex and challenging entries, this likely pseudo-documentary wins not the documentary category, but first prize overall? And politics had nothing to do with it.

Michael also kept up his streak of fibbing by asserting that Disney had, at the last second, decided not to distribute his film. This is false, as he knew well in advance that they would not distribute his film, but it sure helps to have a big bad corporation holding you down. Disney allowed him to seek another distributor and impeded him in no way. He owes them a debt of gratitude.

What strikes me is that the French in Cannes have sacrificed (or is it surrendered?) their artistic integrity for a quick rip on the president. A more deserving film was probably snubbed for this. Perhaps that film will now lack wide release in the US. People will be denied the cultural enrichment of a truly powerful film and instead see what amounts to a commercial for the democratic national committee. How sad.

Then again, it may be that the French simply have no taste. They have a reputation of refinement, but why? They love Jerry Lewis. Doesn't that disqualify them immediately? Sure they drink wine, but they also export more wine to the US than any other country.

Cannes used to bestow its award on a truly deserving film, generally, but not always, under the radar. Here they have essentially sold out to advance a cause. But we already knew how they felt. So why bother? Like many other French endeavors, this was a waste of time that ended in failure. What a travesty.


 
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