Friday, January 25, 2008

Panic on the Right

Peggy Noonan, in a Wall Street Journal Online essay, seems to lament the fratricide taking place among pundits in the Republican Party:

As for the Republicans, their slow civil war continues. The primary race itself is winnowing down and clarifying: It is John McCain versus Mitt Romney, period. At the same time the conservative journalistic world is convulsed by recrimination and attack. They're throwing each other out of the party. Republicans have become very good at that. David Brooks damns Rush Limbaugh who knocks Bill Kristol who anathematizes whoever is to be anathematized this week. This Web site opposes that magazine.

Into the midst of this circular firing squad Noonan lobs a hand grenade:

On the pundit civil wars, Rush Limbaugh declared on the radio this week, "I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys [Mr. McCain or Mike Huckabee] get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party. It's going to change it forever, be the end of it!"

This is absurd. George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart and set them against each other. He did this on spending, the size of government, war, the ability to prosecute war, immigration and other issues.

It is certainly the case that the party has found itself being whip-sawed by a White House that appoints excellent judges to the Supreme Court and then buckles almost completely on illegal immigration. Even so, for Noonan to say that Bush has destroyed the GOP because of the Iraq war is quite a stretch unless she expects us to believe that because Bush doesn't have the support of The New York Times and Congressional Democrats that he has therefore destroyed the party.

What in fact has hurt the Republican party more than anything was their failure to do anything to reform Congress when they had the majority and the disgraceful moral conduct of some GOP Congressmen. If Republicans are going to act like Democrats then, voters figure, why vote for the substitute when you can have the real thing?

As for for what Limbaugh said it is indeed hard to credit. Neither McCain nor Huckabee is any more liberal than any other Republican presidential candidate since Goldwater, save Ronald Reagan. It may be that neither of them would win in November, but why either of them should be more of a disaster for the party than Richard Nixon, Bob Dole, or Bush '41 is not clear to me.

Both Noonan and Rush need to step back and get a little deeper perspective. They also need to remember that even if none of the remaining GOP candidates is ideologically pure they are still orders of magnitude better than the Clintons.

Thanks to Jason for the Noonan article.


Autumn's Onset

I commented to several friends last Fall that I thought autumn came late this year. It seemed that in my part of the country (south-central Pennsylvania) the peak Fall foliage display was about three weeks later than it was a decade ago. I wasn't sure why this should be since I had always thought that the onset of the pigment change was related to conditions like temperature and day length which surely weren't significantly different than they were ten years ago. Nor did I see anything written about autumn's tardiness anywhere, but I was pretty certain I wasn't imagining it. So, when I came upon this story at Science Daily it naturally piqued my interest:

Do those fall colors seem to show up later and later-if at all? Scientists say we can blame increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for prolonging the growing season of the trees. And that may actually be good news for forestry industries.

Writing in the current issue of the journal Global Change Biology, Michigan Technological University Professor David F. Karnosky and colleagues from two continents present evidence that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere act directly to delay the usual autumn spectacle of changing colors and falling leaves in northern hardwood forests.

"Basically, this is a good-news story for our region's forests," said Karnosky. "It suggests that they will become a bit more productive due to the extra carbon being taken up in the autumn, along with the increased photosynthesis throughout the growing season."

They found that the forests on both continents stayed greener longer as CO2 levels rose, independent of temperature changes....There has been plenty of evidence gathered previously to show that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing tree growth to begin earlier in the spring, but until now, most scientists believed that other factors, such as temperature and length of day, were the primary elements influencing autumnal senescence.

This raises some fascinating questions. How sensitive are these plants to CO2 changes? How much of a change in CO2 concentration is necessary to trigger such a profound difference in the timing of senescence? If CO2 increases just a little bit more will deciduous trees hold their leaves all year round? What are the ecological and economic implications of all this?

If anyone knows the answers to any of these questions, let me know.