January 2004

31 Jan 2004 06:40 pm

The local paper here at me judice has an article on how cold it has been this winter: January departs as 20th coldest on record.

The paper edition includes the list of the 19 years colder.

Top 21 coldest average temperatures (Fahrenheit) in the Pittsburgh region since 1875 as recorded by the National Weather Service

  1. 1977: 11.4
  2. 1940: 17.4
  3. 1918: 18.6
  4. 1912: 20.4
  5. 1981: 20.5
  6. 1970: 20.7
  7. 1982: 20.9
  8. 1994: 21.1
  9. 1963: 21.1
  10. 1979: 21.4
  11. 2003: 21.5
  12. 1893: 21.6
  13. 1948: 21.7
  14. 1945: 22.0
  15. 1985: 22.1
  16. 1961: 22.2
  17. 1978: 22.6
  18. 1936: 22.6
  19. 1875: 22.6
  20. 2004: 23.1
  21. 1966: 23.1

Several things become obvious when you look at this chart. The news outlets around here are making a big deal about the cold. But after all, it is January. As the chart shows, January is regularly a cold month, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. And last year was colder, so everyone has a recent reference point. But note: the difference between most of these months in the top twenty is quite small. The difference in average temperature between 20 (and 21) at 23.1 degrees and number four at 20.4 degrees is just 2.7 degrees, which is hardly noticeable. 1977 also stands out as an unusually cold month, in contrast to this January. When the month is that much colder, you notice. I remember that year and it was clearly colder.

But the other thing that stands out to me is how these 21 coldest months are from the entire range from 1875 up to today. They are not clustered together at one end of the time range or the other, indicating a pattern of weather change. When you see the record high temperatures, you will notice the same thing.

Now, I know that global warming is an article of faith to some people, and every weather abnormality is a further proof of this article of faith. If it is hot, it is because of global warming. If it is cold, it is because of global warming. Droughts and floods are also both caused by global warming. But if you can separate the facts from the hysteria, I believe you will see that sometimes it gets hot, and sometimes it gets cold. It always has.

31 Jan 2004 05:20 am

Headline Star Tribune (subscription required): Electronic bomb ‘jammers’ help protect convoys in Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. soldiers riding in convoys in Iraq are now relying on electronic “jammers” to help protect against the roadside bombs used by guerrillas.

It’s unclear how widely the jammers — the same technology that saved Pakistan’s leader from a recent assassination attempt — are being used in Iraq. Moreover, the technology isn’t perfect: In some cases it only delays a bomb from detonating, so it can still explode afterward and kill bystanders.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, acknowledged their use in testimony this week before the House Armed Services Committee, but he declined to discuss the jammers in detail. The military does not want to provide useful information to Iraqi insurgents, officials say.

The device works by preventing a remotely transmitted signal — say, sent from a cell phone — from detonating an explosive when the bomber presses the button. Depending on the distance, power and design of the jammer, some might prevent the bomb from going off. Others might instead set it off before or after the convoy passes — potentially wreaking havoc on bystanders.

Roadside bombs have been the primary killers of U.S. troops in Iraq. Many go off under passing convoys, killing or injuring the occupants of one of the vehicles. In some cases, they have gone off after a convoy has passed.

Bomb jammers have been in use since the early 1980s, experts say. Military aircraft have used them for decades, and versions of anti-jamming technology are advertised on the Internet. It’s unclear whether those versions are effective.

Jamming devices carried in the motorcade of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf delayed the detonation of a huge bomb that exploded moments after his limousine passed over a bridge Dec. 14, Pakistani intelligence has said.

In Israel, a special unit in the Ministry of Defense developed jamming technology in the early 1990s and used it extensively in southern Lebanon in the mid-to late 1990s in an effort to neutralize roadside charges placed by Hezbollah.

In Iraq, employing the jammers is one of a number of steps the military is taking to protect vehicles and soldiers. Others include deploying a more heavily armored Humvee and giving soldiers improved body armor.

Again, its enough to warm the hearts of the Old Crows here at me judice.

31 Jan 2004 04:47 am

Conservatives were saying that the cost estimates thrown around when Congress passed the prescription drug benefits were in fact low. Now, less than two months after it is passed, the White House has increased the estimate for the cost for the next ten years from $400 billion to $534 billion.

Administration officials would not explain the precise reason for the discrepancy. White House spokesman Trent Duffy said putting a price tag on Medicare “is a terrifically difficult area to try to predict” that hinges on “any number of unknowns,” including how many older Americans buy the drug coverage, how much pharmaceutical prices rise and how many people on Medicare switch to private health plans, as the law encourages….

I wonder why the White House all of the sudden realized their cost estimate was wrong, even though they were warned the estimates were too low? For some reason the term pig in a poke comes to mind.

“It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel to say ‘We told you so,’ ” said Robert Moffitt, director of health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that opposed the legislation on the grounds that it was unaffordable.

“All of us were afraid it was going to be greater than the estimate,” said Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.), who said that he and other conservatives had felt pressured to support the bill, knowing that Bush was eager to sign it. “It’s unfortunate that Congress was put in the position of dealing with a bill that was going to be very expensive, going to be an entitlement and was going to make it into law.”

Collins said the White House figures could stiffen conservatives’ resolve to impose unprecedented spending limits on the program. In a compromise, the law does not impose a hard limit on Medicare spending but would require the White House to alert Congress if expenditures rose above specified levels. “I hope Congress has enough backbone” to impose such a cap, Collins said.

I hope Congress has enough backbone to limit spending? And I hope Palestinians wake up tomorrow and decide to be friends with the Israelis.

31 Jan 2004 04:20 am

AFP Photo:

Caption: “Fairy tale : The ‘fairy tale’ castle Neuschwanstein is seen in a snowy environment in Schwangau. (AFP/DDP/Johannes Simon)”

I include it because it is a nice picture that looks a lot like my own home, except a little smaller.

31 Jan 2004 04:19 am

Imagine you are walking down the street at 4 AM, and you see a flatbed truck with four bronze Yoda statues parked in front of a motel. What would you do?

Headline AP: Someone Steals Statue of Yoda

PASADENA, Calif. – Someone lifted a 170-pound bronze statue of Yoda, the “Star Wars” Jedi master.

Nice touch, that. They must be pretty strong to “lift a 170-pound bronze statue”.

The theft from a flatbed truck was reported to police last weekend and artist Lawrence Noble, 55, of Crestline has offered a ,000 reward for its return. The limited-edition bronze is worth up to $20,000.

“It’s a real high-end collectible,” Noble said.

Yes, very high-end. That’s some serious cash. You could convert 20,000 CDs to MP3 with that much money.

The statue was one of four bolted to a flatbed truck parked overnight Jan. 17 at the Westway Inn on Colorado Boulevard. The driver parked the truck in the parking lot so they could keep an eye on the statues, police spokeswoman Janet Pope said.

But someone grabbed Yoda that night or early the next morning

“We are treating this as a burglary and we’d appreciate any information the public might have,” Pope said.

The police force must be highly trained to come to that conclusion so quickly and only three statues as evidence.

The statues were being transported from Artworks Foundry in Berkeley to DKE Enterprises in Los Angeles to be sold, Noble said. Lucasfilm Ltd. commissioned the statues, a part of a planned series featuring other “Star Wars” characters.

Personally, I’d hold out for the truck with the Princess Leia statue with cinnamon buns in her hair. Now that would look a lot better than a wrinkled frog/pig thing in my living room.

30 Jan 2004 04:49 am

Headline KPRC Houston: Blood Supply Low For Super Bowl Weekend

30 Jan 2004 04:19 am

Headline New York Times: Bush Is Said to Seek More Money for Arts

Administration officials, including White House budget experts, said that Mr. Bush would propose an increase of $15 million to $20 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That would be the largest rise in two decades and far more than the most recent increases, about $500,000 for 2003 and $5 million for this year….

Some conservatives, like Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, vowed to oppose the increase. Even without support from the government, he said, “art would thrive in America.”

Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Arts Caucus, said she was delighted to learn of Mr. Bush’s proposal.

“There’s nothing in the world that helps economic development more than arts programs,” Ms. Slaughter said. “It was foolish for Congress to choke them and starve them. We should cherish the people who can tell us who we are, where we came from and where we hope to go.”

Now what was that Bush said about holding spending to 4% increases? But I guess additional spending on economic development is acceptable.

Source: Steve S.

30 Jan 2004 03:47 am

The U.S. News and World Report, February 2, 2004 (paper edition, how quaint), reports that some Iraqi’s might not have quite mastered this idea of Western style democracy.

[T]here are plenty of signs that the sheiks have not completely absorbed the full implications of democracy. Sheik Ghassan Aboud al-Hymus, who heads a large tribe outside Hilla, is very enthuiastic about the event. But when asked if Iraq is ready for democracy where a woman might vote differently from her husband, he just bursts into laughter and walks away. He returns a minute later. “I’d kill her,” he says, suddenly quite serious.

Source: Jim K.

29 Jan 2004 12:25 am

Headline AP: French Cabinet Adopts Head Scarf Ban

29 Jan 2004 12:16 am

Headline Wired: Flower Power Takes on Land Mines

An interesting use of genetic engineering:

COPENHAGEN — A Danish biotech company has developed a genetically modified flower that could help detect land mines and it hopes to have a prototype ready for use within a few years….

The genetically modified weed has been coded to change color when its roots come in contact with nitrogen dioxide evaporating from explosives buried in soil.

Within three to six weeks from being sowed over land mine- infested areas, the small plant, a Thale Cress, will turn a warning red when close to a land mine.

So, when you are wandering through a field and find a clump of blue flowers and a clump of red flowers, if you pick the blue flowers, you can return to your life as it was. But if you pick the red flowers, you will enter wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole really goes.

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