Epistemological Modesty

This is apropos of nothing in particular, but I'd just like to mention that the past year has been an intellectually humbling one for me.  As a general purpose blogger I'm accustomed to spouting off on topics I know only a little bit about, but all that spouting has become more difficult lately.  There's just too much stuff I'm really not sure what to think about.  For example: I don't know if we should send more troops to Afghanistan.  I don't know if fiscal stimulus will work.  I don't know what to do about Pakistan.  I don't who or what is really responsible for our financial meltdown.  I don't know if we need to nationalize some banks.  I don't know the best way to handle detainees at Guantanamo.  I don't know whether it's a good idea to bail out Detroit.  I don't have even the slightest clue how to pursue peace in the Middle East.

On the other hand, Social Security is still a minor problem, national healthcare would be better than our current jury rigged hodgepodge, torture is wrong, global warming is real, preventive war is a bad idea, gay marriage will have no ill effects on straight marriage, Sarah Palin is still an embarrassment, and Inkblot is still America's Cat1.  So there.

1Well, why not?  If the Dallas Cowboys can be America's Team and Rudy Giuliani can be America's Mayor, why can't Inkblot be America's Cat?
Jonathan Stein has been covering the Conservative Political Action Conference for us: John Bolton's bad joke about nuking Chicago, Sarah Palin blaming the media for her own failure; Newt's extreme rhetoric, and Mitt Romney's love-in with the crowd. And I had the chance to go on Hardball to discuss the overall theme of the conference: there's nuthin' wrong with conservative ideas:

Video: Royksopp - "Happy Up Here"



Norwegian duo Röyksopp are back with a new album, Junior, out March 23, and the first single, "Happy Up Here," is nice enough. It sort of feels like an update of their classic "Eple" (whose bleepy melody was charming enough to last as my ringtone for like 8 months) with some breathy vocals that sound a little like Air circa "Cherry Blossom Girl." Not exactly ground-breaking, but lovely. However, the video is a strange and wonderful counterpoint to the song's casual jauntiness: Space Invaders emerge from hiding in our flashy billboards to engage in battle with what looks like a Trabant. Is that Röyksopp there in the Trabant, and will they save us? Watch and find out...

Your Water Bottle Is One-Quarter Oil

Still want to drink it? Because the truth is that bottle of water is up to 2,000 times more energy intensive than just turning on the tap. No one really knew that until now.

Researchers at the Pacific Institute in Oakland California ran the numbers and found that bottle production alone wastes 50 million barrels of oil a year (that's 2.5 days of US oil consumption). Add to that energy the energy needed to process the water, label the bottles, fill the bottles, seal the bottles, transport the bottles, cool them prior to sale… well, you get the idea.

Bottom line: Bottled-water drinkers in the US alone in 2007 squandered the equivalent of 32 to 54 million barrels of oil. Triple that number for worldwide use. For perspective, imagine each bottle is one-quarter full of oil.

As reported at Treehugger: Bottled-water drinkers are the new smokers.

Since oil and water don't mix, turn on the tap. Still want a container? Try reusable Nalgene or stainless steel. Not without impact but durable at least. Traveling overseas to the lands-of-unclean waters? Pony up for a Katadyn bottle/filter combination. I can personally attest that this all-in-one system is a miracle worker of good intestinal and environmental health.

Concerned about the one in six humans who must live in the lands-of-unclean waters? Consider tossing a doubloon or two at the LifeStraw people who've found a nifty and inexpensive way to survive deadly water supplies.

Romney Treated Like a Savior at CPAC. Is He?

Twelve months ago, Mitt Romney made a hero's entrance but a loser's exit here at CPAC. Trailing in the Republican Primary, but recently accepted as the far right's representative in the field, Romney entered the room to thunderous applause but used his speech to make a surprise withdrawal from the race, drawing gasps and cries of despair from the crowd. (For a full report from that day, including quotes from crushed Mitt followers, click here.) From that point forward, you'll remember, Romney became a political odd man out. He had to grovel before John McCain would allow him to be his surrogate on television.

Today, in the same ballroom in the same hotel, Romney made another hero's entrance. The CPAC attendees -- burned by a presidential nominee who did not share their far-right beliefs and disappointed in a Republican congressional leadership they see as providing no leadership at all -- embraced Romney warmly. Organizers were forced to open a second ballroom for overflow viewing. Romney's introducer, the head of the American Conservative Union and the official host of CPAC, called Romney "one of the family." Romney replied, "It feels like coming home, I gotta tell ya."

The Immortal Simpsons

Fox announced yesterday that the network had renewed The Simpsons for two more years. Breaking the record set by Gunsmoke, which ran for 20 years, the animated show will become the longest-running prime time TV series in history.

Bart Simpson was my age (nine years old) when the show made its network debut in 1989. I'm 28 now, so in two years I'll be 30, only six years younger than Marge and Homer who will, of course, remain 36 years old. Like David Wooderson said in Dazed and Confused: "Man, I get older; they stay the same age."

CPAC: Republicans Strike Out on Health Care

Sometimes CPAC makes it perfectly clear why Republicans are wandering in the wilderness.

In a seminar on health care held Friday morning, three conservative speakers were not able to articulate a clear alternative to the universal health care plan President Obama has promised to deliver. There was plenty of alarmist rhetoric. "Obama-care," said Michael Tanner, the moderator and a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, is "one of the greatest threats to our individual liberty that we can find." He paraphrased Reagan: you can't socialize medicine without socializing the doctors, and you can't socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. "That is clearly the agenda that Democrats are pursuing," he said.

Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute argued that Obama's plan to introduce a government health care option that will allow every citizen to have health care coverage similar to what is currently enjoyed by members of Congress will "basically shove out private competition from the market." She suggested that universal health care will be a tool for Obama to consolidate power, and a corruption of the "best health care system in the world." Nothing about new ideas.

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 February 2009

Today is closeup day.  Everyone is outside enjoying the (sorta) sunshine and pondering Portuguese water dogs.  Hmmm.  Are there Portuguese water cats too?  Inquiring felines want to know.  If you have inside information, enlighten the rest of us in comments.  In the meantime, have a nice weekend, everyone.

The End of the War

Barack Obama explains his plan to withdraw from Iraq:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end....We will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops.

Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

There are some caveats, and Spencer Ackerman explains the details here.  But the bottom line is simple: all combat troops will be out within 18 months, and all troops will be out within 34 months.  That's probably not as quickly as I'd like to see it done, but it's probably about as quickly as it was ever likely to happen given the inherent instability of the political situation.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Jindal's Katrina Story

I just finished writing a post about how clownish it was for Bobby Jindal to exaggerate the Hurricane Katrina story he told in his rebuttal speech on Tuesday, but then I erased it.  After reading Ben Smith's full account, including his update, Jindal's puffery strikes me as a misdemeanor at worst.  He shouldn't have done it, but honestly, it's just not that big a deal.