US Cooling Since 1930s

More proof the science on the man-made cause of global warming isn’t as settled as some would like us to believe.

The Council Has Spoken: June 20, 2014

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WSJ: IRS Scandal Worse Than Watergate

Having grown up with Watergate, even watching the congressional testimony on the network news instead of episodes of Match Game or the TV clown on the local UHF station, I agree with this assessment voiced by the Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Daniel Henninger.

 

“The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”

 

Council Submissions: June 18, 2014

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2000 Years Ago Today

In Rome Augustus Caesar was in the final days of his rule. August 19 will be the 2000th anniversary of his death. Augustus was the first Roman emperor, the adopted son of Julius Caesar who pretty much had stuck a fork in the Roman Republic and paid for it with his life. Augustus would establish a peace throughout the Empire, Pax Romana, that would last for 200 years.  He also spread the empire from Egypt to Spain and across the continent to Germany.

Augustus Caesar died at age 75 – either of natural causes or by poison figs given to him by his wife Livia depending on who you believe. While the histories and writings of dead white men have fallen from popularity, Augustus Caesar’s legacy lives on in modern Europe and from that continent to ours today. It’s woven into the very fabric of our identities.

The Council Has Spoken: June 13, 2014

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The Fall of Baghdad – The Sequel

As a former supporter of the Iraq War I was none too pleased to see Obama fail to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government in 2011, nor was I thrilled to watch the country we freed fall into the orbit of Iran after we left. Watching Sunni Islamic militants sweep southward and threaten to topple the Shiite led government though does fill me with a smidgen of schadenfreude though. The New York Times is reporting the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked the US to strike militant positions last month, but the Obama administration declined.

Good.

Other nations must be taught the US is not the world’s policeman nor is it an empire. When we are asked to leave, we leave.  We do not act the way extremists on the right (Ron Paul) and left (Noam Chomsky) claim. If you want us out, we’ll go. The Iraqis wanted us gone, and much to the dismay of many on the right including myself, we went.

Now the Iraqis are reconsidering when they have a band of beheading jihadis in pickup trucks heading their way. Too bad. Instead of asking Washington DC PM al-Maliki needs to ask Teheran for help. Sure I’d rather not see Iraq become a failed state run by terrorists, but actions have consequences and the current leadership which won a free and fair election we created must face the consequences of their actions. After they do, then perhaps we’ll consider our options but not before then.

A Warp Drive Might Be Possible, and More Importantly, Practical

More of this please.

Dr Harold White is famous for suggesting that faster than light (FTL) travel is possible.
Using something known as an Alcubierre drive, named after a Mexican theoretical physicist of the same name, Dr White said it is possible to ‘bend’ space-time, and cover large distances almost instantly. This, in essence, would allow a spaceship to travel almost anywhere in a tiny fraction of the time it would take a conventional spacecraft.

Hope to see this in action sometime before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Open vs Concealed Carry

Reason.com has a pretty good (but brief) take on the open vs conceal carry debate. Personally I tend towards the conceal side simply because people who aren’t familiar with guns tend to freak out whenever one is in sight. At the same time, however, there have been times when I’ve needed to open carry a long-gun or sidearm, but these times have been few and far between and never involved populated places like schools,  malls or shopping centers.

Council Submissions: June 11, 2014

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The Fact the GOP Leadership Is Stunned Says it All

For five years now the GOP leadership has fought the grassroots of the party, both the conservatives and libertarians who make up the core wings of the party. In 2010 they ignored the message of the Tea Party revolt, and worse, blamed the Tea Party for the loss of the senate. In 2012 they ignored the enthusiasm shown by the core for the “anybody but Mitt” search, shoving the establishment candidate down the throats of the party rank and file. The leadership then ignored the resulting lack of enthusiasm that kept a good chunk of the party core at home, allowing Obama to win re-election.

The party faithful want the leadership to attack the administration on the immigration fiasco, the VA scandal and the Bergdahl – Terrorist Swap – and the leadership wants to make a deal with the president on immigration reform. It’s even turning its back on attacking Obamacare even as the law grows worse and less popular.

So the party spends a shed-load of cash on what was supposed to be a coronation of Eric Cantor, and the rabble in Virginia’s 7th grabbed their pitchforks instead, leaving the leadership “absolutely stunned.

And that says everything there is to say about  the GOP leadership.

Update: Fellow online writer and member of the Watcher’s Council VARight, who has played an active role in unseating Cantor as well as fighting the GOP establishment in his home state of VA, wrote about Dave Brat in a personal note:





The man teaches ethics and is an expert in third world economics. His platform was simple. The Republican Creed.
They are calling him TEA Party. He is not. He never attended a TEA Party meeting to my knowledge other than to speak. He is simply a guy that gets it.
This also spells the end of John Boehner. Not tomorrow, but his much talked about retirement will come sooner rather than later. I believe this will mark the day Boehner’s hold on power started a downhill spiral.
The implications of defeating a sitting House Leader losing a primary are huge. Not since 1994 with … Tom Foley – has this happened.
It has been a long road to get here, but Eric Cantor’s defeat sends a strong message to the world, but especially to Washington. There are consequences for your actions.




This fits a report by the Washington Examiner which showed Brat received no funding from Tea Party groups.

The Council Has Spoken: June 6, 2014

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On Bergdahl’s Repatriation

As a parent of a military aged son I’m willing to cut Bergdahl’s parents some slack over their actions and comments of the last five years. I can’t imagine what I’d do in their shoes, but I know myself well enough to understand that I’d be willing to do anything to get my son back if he were held captive. Even if he willingly joined the Taliban I might push the limits of patriotism in order to get him back onto American soil where I would do my best to undo their brainwashing.

But I understand why others might not cut them a break, especially when American lives were lost looking for him. The numbers might be in dispute but that should not detract from the fact that Berdahl’s disappearance did cost American lives. The only question is how many. And just as I can imagine what pressures I’d be under if my son was held captive, I can also imagine the inconsolable loss of my son in combat searching for him.

In my view there is sympathy enough for everyone involved in this fiasco except for the man who pulled it off. Barack Obama. Walter Russel Meade says it best, writing:

(I)t was the White House that politicized this family and brought them under a spotlight better left unlit. Rather than let Sgt. Bergdahl quietly return home, the White House turned the klieg lights on the Bergdahl family, and left them blinking in a glare that did not serve them well.

Whatever else this episode may be, it is not a clear win for the United States or for the increasingly rattled and off-balance Obama Administration. Nor will it endear the President to veterans who are disgruntled about the ongoing scandal of VA fraud and incompetence.

The utterly counterproductive and inappropriate rollout of the news indicates that somebody in the President’s circle has at least temporarily lost his or her grip on reality. How a competent professional could have thought this story was the kind of big win to put on center stage escapes us. The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge; his enemies create enough trouble for him without his friends getting involved.

Obama’s incompetence is only matched by that of the lackies he’s surrounded himself with. It just makes me wonder how the Republic is going to survive such buffoonery for another 2 1/2 years.

Here’s Mad Magazine’s take:

Council Submissions: June 4, 2014

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The Watch

The following was written by me on August 22, 1996 while living in Kyoto Japan. I refer to this event in the About Me page of this website.

I witnessed the pathetic end of a rather sad life today. A young woman killed herself beneath the wheels of a commuter train. Her life ended this afternoon at 12:33, and now some dozen hours later I cannot think of anything else.

Leaping in front of commuter trains is a common method of suicide in this part of Japan. In other parts it is relatively rare from what my friends tell me. Most suicides choose a station with a beautiful view and near a bend so that the train drivers have no warning. As some stations are only served by local trains, these are also more popular as the express trains fly through them – often at speeds approaching sixty miles an hour. On stations where the bullet train pass, they do so on outer, inaccessible rails with tall fences constructed to deter the jumpers.

The young woman chose Tofukuji station on the Keihan line – a station on a bend affording a pleasant view of the eastern mountains of Kyoto. It is also served by local trains only. So at 12:33pm, just before a Kyoto-bound train was to pass through the station and pass my Osaka-bound express train, she threw herself onto the rails. I’ve heard that when the suicides jump, they instinctively land on their feet. I wonder if this girl did the same. Did she stand and see the train driver’s stunned face? Or was she looking at the eastern mountains?

There is a wall of air that surrounds any fast moving object, and hitting this is the equivalent of hitting concrete. The would have sucked her body under the train carriages, dragging it along for several hundred yards until the train stopped. Supposedly death is quick, though I’ve often wondered whether that last instant of life stretches for the doomed, turning into infinity. In all the dangerous scrapes I’ve survived time seemed to become quite elastic, with seconds stretching into minutes before reality snapped back on itself and the flow of time resumed once the crisis was over.

My Osaka bound train had been scheduled to pass it’s Kyoto-bound counterpart at the station. Her leap changed all that. Both trains stopped, with mine halting a car length or so from where she laid beneath the wheels. Any commuter knows the rhythm of her train or bus, and the sudden slowing down of the train broke me away from my newspaper and awakened numerous dozing passengers. A group of high school boys at the very front of the train began chattering, and as the train came to an abrupt halt, I knew there was trouble. The driver scurried between a window and a telephone and the high school students along with some curious old people stood up. I moved forward expecting the worst but drawn forward nonetheless by the irresistible force that draws strangers towards the site of a tragedy.

She laid face down on the tracks beneath an axle, her body covered by the shadow of the passenger car  above her. The high school students and the old people began asking each other, “Is it a man? A woman? From the heap laying on the tracks we couldn’t tell. The driver of our train left and trotted to her body, putting on some latex gloves as he did so. I noticed some station attendants appear, each removing his white gloves and replacing them with purple-colored latex ones. One of the station attendants carried a green tarp which they spread on the ground next to the body. They lifted her gently from under the train, and I was surprised by how limp her body was.

I understand that there are those such as paramedics, firemen, and police who know how a dead body looks when it is moved, but to someone whose experiences of death are thankfully few and far between it is quite stunning. When dead bodies are moved in movies, they never look like that. To me it looked as if the station workers were picking up an odd shaped sack of cement. There was no muscle control or rigidity to the body whatsoever. She was completely, impossibly limp. It may have looked like a sack of cement to me but it wasn’t. What those men laid gently onto the tarp had moments before been human, and I suddenly felt sick.

As they arranged her body on the tarp we saw the gold watch on her arm. It was a slim watch, obviously a woman’s, and the students and the old people said almost in unison, “It’s a woman.” For having a five hundred foot long train run over it, her body was surprisingly intact. The head and all the limbs were all where they were supposed to be. She wore blue jeans and was barefoot. She probably had been wearing shoes which had come off during her death since no one walks barefoot in the street of Japan. To be honest I forget what top she wore, but I can see the watch clearly. It was a gold watch, a slim woman’s analog. Had it been a gift or had she purchased it herself? How often had she looked at it, and had she used it to time her death?

As they carried the body across the rails in front of our train the Japanese boys twittered excitedly among themselves as an old woman gazed upon the scene solemnly. The station attendants and our driver hefted her body onto the train platform and blood gushed upon the concrete, eliciting shouts of “Gross!” and “Disgusting!” from the high schoolers. I found myself shaking and noticed that some old people sitting on the train station platform turned their bodies away from the scene only a few feet away from them, gazing up the tracks and waiting for the next train to come and take them away from the little human drama unfolding nearby.

They were not alone. I noticed that quite a few people remained in their seats on the train throughout this little drama. Some of them were reading newspapers or the ubiquitous comic books which occupy the time of so many Japanese when they aren’t working or sleeping. Others simply stared into space, off in their little worlds seemingly oblivious to this scene. Others waiting in the train which had hit the woman looked annoyed as they looked back and forth between their watches and the station attendants, as if their fidgeting would send the body quickly to the morgue and get the train back on schedule. Their train conductor no doubt was making the same train announcements as ours throughout the ordeal – apologizing for the inconvenience and promising we would soon be underway.

And soon we were as our driver returned, removing his latex gloves as he entered the train. The train conductor announced his thanks and appreciation for our wait. The woman’s body laying covered by the tarp, station workers beside it, slowly slid past outside our windows as our train continued on its journey. Next stop Fushimiinari, famous for its Shinto shrine dedicated to prosperity.

We returned to our seats, the students still chattering excitedly. I stared at the newspaper and at the article I had been reading but couldn’t concentrate. At this paragraph the woman had been alive and I hadn’t known it; at the next she was dead, and that I knew.

No doubt some would scoff at my apparent naivete and sensitivity regarding this woman’s suicide. My wife and I are expecting our first child in two months, and we were warned that parenthood would make us more sensitive to certain events and stories in the news. Perhaps that explains why I have spent the past hours thinking about that watch and that girl, imagining the future.

Somewhere a person was living their life and received a phone call that changed it forever. Their lives, along with those of her family, were now part of a very ancient play in which loved ones are mourned and their bodies consigned to oblivion. The funeral would last several days, and from what I know about Japanese funerals, they are quite extraordinary affairs. Given the state of her body, the family may forgo the usual dressing of it and placing it in a futon, as if the dead were asleep at her family home. On the next day she would lay in an open wooden casket with a large portrait of her hanging above as a Buddhist monk chanted and incense filled the air. Later she would then receive her death or spirit name, the name which would appear on her gravestone. This practice where the dead are given different names makes tracing ancestors by searching headstones in cemeteries impossible. But the Japanese maintain meticulous family histories, some of which go back a thousand years. Finally on the third day she would be cremated.

Funerals are always bizarre affairs in any culture, so perhaps what I’m about to describe isn’t as strange to some as it was to me. But I find the custom of Japanese cremation to be downright spooky. The Japanese cremate their dead at a much lower temperature which burns away the flesh but leaves the bones. Afterwards the bones are removed from the oven and laid out before the family members. Each member then uses a pair of large wooden chopsticks or tongs to pick up a bone and place it into a special ceremonial box. The rest of the remains are then added to the box with the skull placed on top. The box is then covered and carried home where it remains for several days until the family gravestone is opened. One student told me about her grandfather’s funeral. She mentioned the smell and the warmth emanating from the box as she carried it home. Small ceremonies where a Buddhist monk chants, burns incense and rings a bell are then carried out forty nine days, one year, three years, seven years and thirteen years after death. Each year during the Bon holiday in August her relatives will come to her gravestone and pour water over it as they offer a prayer to her soul.

And so it shall be for this girl whose broken body I saw on my way to work today. I will never know her name nor what drove her to a death which mildly inconvenienced several hundred passengers on the Keihan line for a few minutes on a hot summer day in Kyoto Japan.

Post script: There was no mention of her death in the local media.  I don’t know whether this omission was meant to protect the family or because such acts are relatively common here.

Update: The woman has been dead almost 18 years now. Her broken body has faded into shadow, but the raw emotion of this scene still stirs within me. The watch remains clear.