Random musings as we sprint eagerly into 2006: While we're turning the thermostat low and bundling up to conserve energy, we can mentally toast ourselves with the knowledge that 2005 was the warmest year on record in the northern hemisphere. The average global temperature was the second highest ever recorded — a measly one-tenth of a degree behind the record set in 1998.

Further, the World Meteorological Organization and the National Climatic Data Center say the years 1997-2005 were the nine warmest since records started being kept in 1861.

Arctic sea ice is melting, now at record low levels; glaciers are shrinking by several miles each year; and some scientists worry that less ice and snow in the not-so-frozen North will result in reduced deflection of solar radiation, raising temperatures even more.

Almost everyone now accepts that our planet is getting warmer short term, which the alarmists blame on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, but there is yet no conclusive proof that the higher temps aren't just part of Earth's heating/cooling cycles that have been going on for millennia.

It was, of course, only coincidence (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that gasoline prices dropped 20 cents a gallon post-Katrina, when some members of Congress started bandying the dread words “excess profits tax” for the oil companies. We can assume it was similarly only coincidence that when the congressional posturing abated, gas prices shot up 15 cents in a week's time just before the holidays. No shortages anywhere. No supply interruptions. Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!

Well, hey, Congress was otherwise occupied, yammering about turning the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska into Texas Oil Patch North, while Scrooge-ily devising ways to take benefits away from farmers, college students, the poor, and the elderly so we can keep pouring billions of dollars and thousands of American lives into the war in Iraq.

Sen. Bill Frist, the dour multi-millionaire heart surgeon/would-be president, pontificated how the cuts were all for the good of the country.

Yeah, right. One-third of those cuts would be in the student loan program, further hampering U.S. higher education. China, India, Japan, and other countries keep cranking out engineers and scientists at breakneck pace, while the U.S. risks becoming a second-rate power educationally, scientifically, and industrially.

(Of course, the pampered elite on Capitol Hill never in any, way, form or fashion cut their salaries or health/retirement benefits, which are light years ahead of any farmer or working class Joe.)

Oil companies have been salivating for decades over the estimated 10 billion to 16 billion gallons of oil under the snow and ice of the Arctic refuge created in the Eisenhower administration. Proponents of drilling paint ANWR as something of a Holy Grail in helping to resolve U.S. energy woes.

What they don't say is that ANWR oil, however much or little, wouldn't be exclusively for U.S. use. Rather, the multinational oil companies that extract the oil will simply put it on the world market and it may well end up sailing right past the U.S. and going to oil-hungry China or whichever other country pays the price.