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Footloose, Arizona Style

At San Tan Flats, you can dance if you want to:

Outdoor dancing is now allowed at San Tan Flat.

Pinal County Superior Court Judge William O'Neil Wednesday overturned the decision of the county board of supervisors that said the restaurant was operating illegally by allowing patrons to dance to live music on its back patio.

The case, which stretched over two years, drew national attention.

The supervisors' decision stemmed from a 1962 ordinance that banned outdoor dance halls.

Dale Bell, owner of the restaurant, contended the county violated his rights to run his business.

He sued the county for $1.

"That $1 is about freedom and about civil liberties and the government not being allowed to overreact," Bell said Wednesday.

Pinal County threatened to fine Bell $700 for each day he violated the ordinance.

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 09:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

While We Are On The Subject of Oil...

Glen Reynolds brings us this:

A provision in the US Carbon Neutral Government Act incorporated into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 act effectively bars the US government from buying fuels that have greater life-cycle emissions than fuels produced from conventional petroleum sources.

The United States has defined Alberta oilsands as unconventional because the bitumen mined from the ground requires upgrading and refining as opposed to the traditional crude pumped from oil wells.

California Democrat Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Republican Tom Davis added the clause.

Uh, right.  Since we all burn pure unrefined crude oil pumped right from the oil well in our car. 

Here is what a traditional crude oil goes through before it becomes gasoline:

  • Water and salt must be removed
  • The oil is heated up to over 700 degrees, and is separated into its fractions via distillation.  Oil is made up of hydrocarbon chains of many lengths, from short ones (methane, ethane, propane) to very long ones (asphalt, heavy motor oils).  Gasoline is somewhere in between.
  • Each fraction generally has to be de-sulfurized.  This generally occurs by injecting hydrogen into the fraction across a catalyst bed to remove the sulfur as Hydrogen Sulfide, a dangerous gas that must be further processed to produce pure sulfur.
  • The gasoline fractions in a typical oil are nowhere near large enough for the relative demand.  So additional steps must be taken to produce gasoline:
    • Very heavy fractions have their molecules cracked at high temperatures, either in cokers, high temperature crackers or in fluid catalyst bed crackers.  These processes either remove carbon in its pure form or remove it by combining it with hydrogen
    • Certain fractions are reformed in combination with hyrdrogen, sometimes across a platinum catalyst, to produce molecules with better properties for gasoline, including higher octane.
    • All over a refinery, there are small units that take individual fractions that use a variety of processes to create specific molecules that have useful properties
  • All of these different fractions and products are blended in various proportions to make different grades of gasoline.  These blends and proportions can change from city to city (to meet environmental regulations, Phoenix must have a gasoline blend that is unique in the US) and must change season to season (gas that burns well in winter will vapor lock in the summer time).

I am sure I left tons of steps out, but you get the idea.  Below are my old digs at Exxon's Baytown Texas Refinery, where I worked as an engineer for 3 years out of college:

Baytown2  Baytown_2

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Cognitive Dissonance

As a follow-up to this post on gas-price demagoguery, I would like to observe that the very same people who are most likely to demagogue about high gas prices in this country are the very same ones who advocate that the US adopt European-style taxation levels, regulatory policy, and CO2 targets, the results of which can be seen here:

Gas1

If you can't read the colors on the scale well, I think you can guess which is the US price line and which are the European gas prices.  Source here.  Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with wholesale gasoline prices, which are substantially similar between the US and Europe:

Gas2

Since the difference in price does not go to the producer, I will leave it as an exercise to guess where the extra $5 per gallon is going (hint:  Uncle Francois)  The cognitive dissonance required to call for 80% CO2 reductions while simultaneously decrying $3.50 gas prices is just stunning to me.

Update:  From the same source, here are the gas prices in dollars per US gallon EXCLUDING taxes:

                               
DateBelgium FranceGermanyItalyNthrlndsUKUS
4/14/20083.323.283.183.613.853.093.21

Update #2:  More here on Hillary's sleight of hand.  And this from Robert Samuelson, at how this cognitive dissonance extends to exploration limits:

We could be producing more, but Congress has put large areas of potential supply off-limits. These include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. By government estimates, these areas may contain 25 billion to 30 billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion barrels of proven U.S. reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas (compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves).

What keeps these areas closed are exaggerated environmental fears, strong prejudice against oil companies and sheer stupidity. Americans favor both "energy independence" and cheap fuel. They deplore imports -- who wants to pay foreigners? -- but oppose more production in the United States. Got it? The result is a "no-pain energy agenda that sounds appealing but has no basis in reality," writes Robert Bryce in "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence.' "

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cui Bono?

Here is something I didn't know:  Way back in the 1990's, Enron was lobbying hard for cap and trade legislation to create a lucrative new trading profit center for the company (HT Tom Nelson)

In the early 1990s Enron had helped establish the market for, and became the major trader in, EPA’s $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide cap-and-trade program, the forerunner of today’s proposed carbon credit trade. This commodity exchange of emission allowances caused Enron’s stock to rapidly rise.

Then came the inevitable question, what next? How about a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program? The problem was that CO2 is not a pollutant, and therefore the EPA had no authority to cap its emission. Al Gore took office in 1993 and almost immediately became infatuated with the idea of an international environmental regulatory regime. He led a U.S. initiative to review new projects around the world and issue ‘credits’ of so many tons of annual CO2 emission reduction. Under law a tradeable system was required, which was exactly what Enron also wanted because they were already trading pollutant credits.

Thence Enron vigorously lobbied Clinton and Congress, seeking EPA regulatory authority over CO2. From 1994 to 1996, the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million dollars - $990,000 - to the Nature Conservancy, whose Climate Change Project promotes global warming theories. Enron philanthropists lavished almost $1.5 million on environmental groups that support international energy controls to “reduce” global warming. Executives at Enron worked closely with the Clinton administration to help create a scaremongering climate science environment because the company believed the treaty could provide it with a monstrous financial windfall. The plan was that once the problem was in place the solution would be trotted out.

With Enron out of the picture, the way is clear for new players to dominate this multi-billion dollar new business.  And look who is ready to take over from Enron:

The investment vehicle headed by Al Gore has closed a new $683m fund to invest in early-stage environmental companies and has mounted a robust defence of green investing.

The Climate Solutions Fund will be one of the biggest in the growing market for investment funds with an environmental slant.

The fund will be focused on equity investments in small companies in four sectors: renewable energy; energy efficiency technologies; energy from biofuels and biomass; and the carbon trading markets.

This is the second fund from Generation Investment Management, chaired by the former vice-president of the US and managed by David Blood, former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The first, the Global Equity Strategy Fund, has $2.2bn invested in large companies the company judges have “sustainable“ businesses, from an environmental, social and economic viewpoint. Mr Blood said he expected that fund to be worth $5bn within two years, based on commitments from interested investors.

Going green indeed.

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 08:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Wussification of America

From the Arizona Republic, presented without comment:

Phoenix fire vehicles, including some hazardous-materials units, responded to a small mercury spill at Mountain Pointe High School Tuesday afternoon. No one "complained of medical problems" or was transported to a hospital, said Mark Faulkner, Phoenix Fire Department division chief for the public affairs.

At about 1:30 p.m. a call came to the Fire Department about a "dime-size spill of mercury" on the campus at 4201 E. Knox Road in Ahwatukee Foothills, Faulkner said.

The mercury was in a science laboratory but how it spilled is unknown. It could have been part of an experiment or possibly a thermometer cracked, Faulkner said.

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

One of My Favorite Short Stories as a Boy

I rediscovered today an old favorite of mine, a short story written by Winston Churchill (yes, the same guy) in about 1930.  My son was searching for examples of alternative history, and found "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg"

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Amazon One-Star Reviews

Have I ever told you that I really like author John Scalzi?  Not just because I love his books, but I do really enjoy his work.  I like him because he spends a lot of time promoting the work of other young writers and promoting the science fiction and fantasy genre in general.

Recently, Scalzi published on his blog all his Amazon one-star reviews.  As a fairly novice writer who will never write as well as Scalzi, I found this quite liberating.  If folks like him endure these bad reviews, maybe I should not let my own setbacks get me down.  He has challenged other authors to do the same, publishing their Amazon one-star reviews online.  In this post, he links a number of authors who have taken up the challenge, including Charles Stross and Jo Walton.

So, though I am not in the league of these other authors, I will post my one-star review for my book BMOC.

I like the concept for the book and like reading Warren Meyer's Coyote Blog. I don't understand how crude and uncouth became popular and I am disappointed that is the approach that was chosen with this book. I should have paid attention to the review by "Warren's mother." I've returned my copy to Amazon for a refund.

Wow, I actually feel better.  Based on this review, I will warn you as I warn my friends when I give them a copy:  The book has its crude parts, and I have only let my kids read highly edited portions.  That being said, its not Fear of Flying either, and my parent's priest read it without spontaneously combusting.  But don't buy it if you are turned off by harsh language and some sexual humor.  I have two youth novels in the works, you can save your money for them ;=)

Postscript:  This is one of the one-star reviews posted for Anya Bast's Witch Fire:

“Not romance, not erotica, basically porn - what little plot there is exists to connect the sex scenes, note I didn’t say love making scenes. Altogether distasteful and I won’t waste money on this author again.”

LOL, if the review is trying to hurt Ms. Bast's sales, I am not positive this is the right approach.

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

OMG

Wow- a video of Jimmy Page in 1957.  For you younger folks, Page was lead guitarist for the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, among others.

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Demagoguery

Hillary has jumped on the gas tax holiday along with John McCain.   Kevin Drum calls it pure demagoguery (he probably wouldn't have been so blunt about Hillary, but since he already derided McCain for the idea, he has the good grace to apply the same criticisms to Hillary:

I'd say there's approximately a zero percent chance that Hillary Clinton or John McCain actually believe this is good policy. It would increase oil company profits, it would make hardly a dent in the price of gasoline, it would encourage more summertime driving, and it would deprive states of money for transit projects. Their staff economists know this perfectly well, and so do they.

But they don't care. It's a way to engage in some good, healthy demagoguery, and if there's anything that the past couple of months have reinforced, it's the notion that demagoguery sells. Boy does it sell.

I tend to agree with Drum.  The gas tax, at least when applied to its original purpose of funding highways and roads, is one of the better taxes out there, doing a pretty good job of matching the costs of roads to the users of the roads.  However, I did make this point in Drum's comment section:

I am glad you see that an 18.4 cent gas price reduction is small compared to the total price and proposing such a reduction by government fiat is pure demagoguery. 

I would like to point out that most oil companies have a profit on a wholesale gallon of gas that is also about 18-20 cents.  The reason they make so much money is that they sell a lot of gallons of gas (plus many other petroleum products).  So is it similarly pure demagoguery to blame oil company profits for the price of gas, or to suggest government schemes (e.g. windfall profits tax) to reduce these profits?

By the way, Hillary is particularly hypocritical on this, because she has adopted the 80 by 50 CO2 target (80% reduction by 2050).  To meet this target, which I think would be an economic disaster, is not going to require an 18.4 cent gas tax, but something like a $10 a gallon gas tax, or more.  Since she has adopted her 80 by 50 target, her correct answer on gas taxes should not be to propose a holiday, but to say "suck it up, because taxes are going to go a hell of a lot higher."  McCain, who has also adopted a CO2 target, though a less stringent one, is in the same boat.

Update:  OK, the $10 per gallon tax is probably gross under-estimated.  The number is likely to have to be much higher than that, given that Europeans are already paying nearly $10 a gallon and are not even in the ballpark of these CO2 targets.

Cost of gasoline
(U.S. Dollars per Gallon)
Date___     Belgium  France  Germany  Italy  Netherlands  UK  _ US
4/20/98     3.43___  3.44__  3.25___  3.48_  3.56_______ 4.04  1.21
4/21/08     8.62___  8.34__  8.58___  8.32_  9.51_______ 8.17  3.73

HT:  Hall of Record

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

From Now On I Must Be Addressed as "Award winning Filmmaker" Coyote

Here is the public announcement of my second prize in a climate video contest.  I am pretty sure I am not a kid, though, nor do I remember portraying myself as such. 

By the way, for those who don't know me well, the title of this post is a joke.  I often deride people for adopting titles like "award-winning X" when the award in question is often unknown or even, like as not, a product of a paid PR effort. 

Posted on April 28, 2008 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Two-Income "Trap", aka the Government Trap

Todd Zywicki has a nice post on the The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke by Professor Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. 

In his writings on the tactics for engineering the communist state, Karl Marx talked a lot about the need to "proletarianize the middle class."  This has been a very popular tactic among leftish writers and politicians today, attempting to convince the middle class that they never had it so bad.

I won't repeat Zywicki's whole post, but the books author's argument revolve around examples which purport to show that as families go from one to two earners, their costs (health care, child care, cars, mortgage, etc.) go up by more than the additional income, making them poorer on a discretionary spending basis.

Zywicki first points out the same thing I immediately thought of when I read a summary of the book:

It is not clear what to make of all of this, except that it is hard to see how this confirms the central hypothesis of "The Two-Income Trap" that "necessary" expenses such as mortgage, car payments, and health insurance are the primary draing on the modern family's budget. And again, this unrealistically assumes that all increased spending on houses and cars is exogenously determined, ignoring the possibility that an increase in income leads to an endogenous decision by some households to increase their expenditures on items such as houses and cars.

While the assumption seems crazy, it makes sense in the context of leftish ideology, which holds that the middle class have only limited free will and tend to have their decision making corrupted by advertising and other corporate pressures.

But Zywicki goes further, and actually digs into the author's numbers.  He finds that the authors are surprisingly coy about addressing changes in taxation in their numbers.   Zywicki then uses the authors' own numbers, this time with taxes factored in using the authors' own assumptions, and gets these two charts:
Toddtwo_income_3 Toddtwo_income_4

As Zywicki summarizes:

As can readily be seen, expenses for health insurance, mortgage, and automobile, have actually declined as a percentage of the household budget. Child care is a new expense. But even this new expenditure is about a quarter less than the increase in taxes. Moreover, unlike new taxes and the child care expenses incurred to pay them, increases in the cost of housing and automobiles are offset by increases in the value of real and personal property as household assets that are acquired in exchange.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially more in taxes than in their mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And the growth in the tax obligation between the two periods is substantially greater the growth in mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And note, this is using the data taken directly from Warren and Tiyagi's book.

Posted on April 28, 2008 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Something Else I didn't Know

Something I didn't know:  Arizona has a State Board of Homeopathic Examiners.   Seriously?  Do we also have a state board for horoscope writers?  For witch doctors?  For water diviners?  Doesn't the Flat Earth society need some supervision?

How do you have a board of scientific examiners for a discipline that has no science behind it.  A key part of homeopathy is the repetitive dilution of active ingredients to make "medicines."  In fact, homeopathy advocates claim that more diluted mixtures are more potent.  Here is an example, via Wikipedia:

Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes (that is, dilution by a factor of 1060).[73] A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C [1 in 10400] dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. Comparing these levels of dilution to Avogadro's number, one liter of a 12C homeopathic remedy created from diluting 1 liter of 1 molar solution contains on average only about 0.602 molecules of the original substance per liter of the 12C remedy. Similarly, the chance of a single molecule of the original substance remaining in a liter of 15C remedy dose is about one in 1.7 million, and about one in 1.7 trillion trillion trillion (1036) for a 30C solution.

So what does the Homeopathic board do, look at the products sold for $100 by homeopaths and say, yep, that's pure water, it must be a valid homeopathic brew?

According to our governor here in Arizona, the Homepathic examiners are not doing their job.  What does that mean?  Did some homeopath actually sell a product that had a measurable amount of the active ingredient?  Anyway, the two comments so far on the Republic article sort of sum the whole debate up:

Commenter 1:  The number of people injured by homeopathic treatments is a tiny fraction of the number of people killed and injured by regular allopathic physicians and prescription drugs. The allopathic community doesn't like the competition, though, so they create a crisis.

Commenter 2:The number of people helped by homeopathic treatments remains zero, so the cost/benefit ration is infinitely higher than that of allopathy.  It's true that the allopathic medicine industry doesn't like competition, but that doesn't change the fact that homeopathy is nothing more than faith healing.

A couple of notes, just so I am not misunderstood:

  1. I am sympathetic with the desire not to load oneself up with drugs as much as many doctors seem to prescribe.  I have been prescribed antibiotics about 10 times in the last 20 years and have actually taken them once.  That being said, all those drugs and medical procedures have a real utility in aggregate.  To some extent homeopaths are, like vaccination avoiders, free riders on the medical care provided everyone else.  Go try your diluted duck liver in a plague-ravaged Middle Age city and see how far it gets you.  Go back 100 years and see how many of your children you can save from early death with homeopathy.
  2. I am very sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the current medical profession provides only one type of care without competition.  I have argued this same thing many times.  Its absurd, for example, that we have to go to a person with 8 years of medical education to get a few stitches put in.  Why can't someone with far less expensive education set up an emergency practice without an MD to dress and sew up simple wounds?  Think how much this would clear out the typical ER.  But we can't, because the government colludes with doctors to protect their medical monopoly and their single preferred (read intensive and expensive) style of care.

Posted on April 27, 2008 at 09:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Why You Seldom See Me In My Own Comment Threads

A reader asks:

I enjoy reading your Coyote and Climate Skeptic blogs, thanks for hosting them! I am curious why you don't take part in the comments that rage over many of your postings.

There are several reasons.  First, I usually feel that I have said what I have to say in a particular post.  I enjoy reading the comments, but don't have a strong need to correct or combat those who misinterpret or disagree with me.  I learn from comments and try to make my arguments more bullet-proof in the future.  Second, I find it infinitely more powerful if my reader base makes the rebuttals for me.

Third, and most importantly, I just don't have the time.  Way back when, I used to get sucked into all kinds of chat-room flame wars.  It is just way to time-consuming.  Even blogging itself takes more time than I really should commit to an activity that does nothing to advance the well-being of my family or my business.  There is a person I consider an online friend (I have never met him in person) who writes a climate blog and gets sucked into the flame wars on his blog, and it seems to cause him all kinds of stress. 

This cartoon from XKCD seems appropriate as a summation:

Duty_calls

So, if I do not respond to your critiques in the comment thread, do not assume that your wit and eloquence have silenced me.  I am probably waiting to re-post on the subject in the future.  Just because you don't yet feel anything nibbling on your legs does not mean that the fin swimming around you in the water is going to go away peacefully.

Posted on April 27, 2008 at 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Newest Threat to the Republic

There are two America's:  The one that is trying to steal my freedom from the top down (wiretaps, proscutorial abuse, expanding executive power) and the one that is trying to steel freedom from the bottom up.  Reason, as quote by TJIC, has a nice piece on one of the bottom-up fascists:

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, there exists another world, an underground world of illicit trade in - not drugs or sex - but bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Street vendors may sell you an illegal bacon dog, but hardly anyone will talk about it, for fear of being hassled, shut down or worse. Our camera caught it on tape. One minute bacon dogs are sold in plain view, the next minute cops have confiscated carts, and ordered the dogs dumped into the trash.

Elizabeth Palacios is one of the few vendors willing to speak publicly. “Doing bacon is illegal,” she explains. Problem is customers love bacon, and Palacios says she loses business if she doesn’t give them the bacon they demand. “Bacon is a potentially hazardous food,” says Terrence Powell of the LA County Health Department. Continue selling bacon dogs without county-approved equipment and you risk fines and jail time.

Palacios knows all about that. She spent 45 days in the slammer for selling bacon dogs, and with the lost time from work, fines, and attorney’s fees, she fears she might lose the house that bacon dogs helped buy. She must provide for her family, but remains trapped between government regulations and consumer demand. Customers don’t care about safety codes, says Palacios. “They just want the bacon.”

TJIC, as he often does, captures a number of the best comments.  The full reason video is below:

Posted on April 26, 2008 at 09:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

I Was Right -- Superbowl Economic Contribution Numbers Completely Bogus

In this post, I called bullsh*t on this economic contribution number:

A study released today by the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee estimates professional football's championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale generated an economic impact of $500.6 million for the state.

I used some quick reality checks to show that the likelihood that this was a truly incremental economic contribution number was zero.  Now, Arizona has released its February sales tax numbers (the data I suggested was the best way to try to do this analysis).  As I suspected the numbers are not even close.  Let's start with this report from the Arizona Republic:

Sales-tax collections at hotels and motels showed the strongest gains among tourism-related businesses as thousands of out-of-town visitors booked rooms for the National Football League's Feb. 3 championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

The Arizona Department of Revenue said February sales-tax collections jumped 12.4 percent at hotels and motels. It was the lodging industry's best showing, as measured by sales-tax collections, since January 2007.

Bars and restaurants also rebounded from two consecutive monthly declines to post a 4 percent gain in tax collections.

Despite the improved showing in those tourism-related categories, the state's overall collections continued a downward trend, punctuated by slumping retail sales and the real-estate industry's decline. Arizona's total tax collections for the month checked in at $444.1 million, a decline of nearly 1.2 percent from the month before.

Well, that sure doesn't sound like $500 millions worth.  Let's look at the hotel number.  From this Arizona DOR source document (Feb 2008 Tax Facts), the taxable hotel/motel sales in February were about $215 million.  A 12.4% jump, if you attributed it all to the Superbowl, would thus be $27 million.  Similarly, a 4% jump in restaurant would be $33 million.  As I predicted, these don't even add up to $50 million and it is unlikely all of this is due to the Superbowl. 

[The above is still substantially correct.  What follows is corrected in the update] But wait, there's more!  I then I started looking closer at the February tax report.  I don't know what copy the reporter was using [probably one "specially annotated" by the Sports Authority], but my copy shows hotel/motel revenues in Arizona going down by 9% in February 2008 vs. Feb 2007.  It shows restaurants and bars going down by 2%. I checked the Feb 2007 report, just to make sure, and sure enough the 2007 numbers were much higher, despite one more day in February in 2008!  One can find ZERO incremental impact from the Superbowl.

Now these are statewide numbers, and it is possible the author of the article mixed in Maricopa County numbers and that is where the increases were seen.  If true, though, this means the dollar increase was much less, because we are using a smaller base (ie just one county, though a very large one).  And it means that the County numbers may be misleading, because the Phoenix area just cannibalized sales from the rest of Arizona, which was way down.  Either way, it means the $500 million number the Republic keeps pushing is total BS  (incredibly, the author reprints the $500 million number in his article, as if it were consistent with the sales tax data he is quoting.)

Update:  OK, I was right and wrong.  Apparently, when the state of Arizona says "February 2008 Taxable Sales" they mean Taxable sales on reports that they receive in February.  Because reports come in after the tax month is closed, by February 2008 taxable sales they actually mean sales that occurred in January, 2008.  Many apologies to Arizona Republic writer Ken Alltucker who was kind enough to set me straight.  The Arizona DOR report for March 2008 sales, which we now know is actually February 2008 sales, has not been posted online but I am willing to take his word on it.  This is not the first time, alas, that I have been fooled by the fact that the government uses cash rather than accrual accounting.

The wasted effort I expended on the February report which is actually January is not wasted:  From it, we do know that from studying what is actually the sales for January, the Superbowl had no discernible effect on hotel or restaurant revenues in the weeks leading up to the game, since these numbers were down substantially.  I am sure that you will find a few people singing the praises of the Superbowl.  I have not doubt that a few exclusive Scottsdale clubs benefited from having a series of celebrity parties during the run-up to the Superbowl, but overall the impact is low for exactly the reason I already stated:  Superbowl week, due to the nice weather and the Phoenix Open golf tournament, is already a big one for Phoenix area hotels and restaurants.

The point still stands.  I got diverted off on the report discrepancy, but using what I now understand to be correct numbers in the article shows that the ASU B-school study seems to have exaggerated the Superbowl's financial impact by as much as an order of magnitude.

So maybe in the future I will show more respect for reporters who make dumb numerical errors.  Or maybe I won't, since I don't get paid to do this nor do I have 2 or 3 layers of editors looking over my shoulder.

Posted on April 26, 2008 at 12:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Weird Day

Well, I just managed to get trapped in an elevator by myself for 45-minutes.  They just got me out.  The good news:  I was bringing my lunch to the office, so I just sat on the floor and ate until they got me out.  I think that my biorhythms may be on a low today, so I may just call it a day before I get hit by a bus or something.

Posted on April 25, 2008 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Prosecutorial Abuse vs. Parental Abuse

Apparently, the State of Texas is still trying to figure out what to do with those 400+ kids rounded up at the YFZ Ranch.  I don't really know enough about the case to comment on whether these kids were victims or not, though from reading this the evidence looks thin.

Here is my concern.  About 15 years ago I sat on a jury in Dallas.  The particular case was a child abuse case, with the state alleging a dad had sexually assaulted his daughter.  The whole case took about 3 days to present and it took the jury about 2 hours to find the guy innocent, and it took that long only because of one holdout.

The reason we found him innocent so quickly is because it became clear that the state had employed Janet Reno tactics (the Miami method, I think it was called) to put pressure on the child over a period of 6 months to break her out of her position that her dad had done nothing.  (By the way, is anyone else flabbergasted that Janet Reno, of all people, is on the board of the Innocence Project?).

Anyway, the dad was first arrested when the teenage babysitter told police that the daughter was behaving oddly and it seemed just like a story she had seen on Oprah.   Note, the babysitter did not witness any abuse nor did the girl mention any abuse to her.  She just was acting up one night.  At trial, the babysitter said her dream was to have this case propel her to an Oprah appearance of her own (I kid you not).

On that evidence alone, the state threw the dad in jail and starting a 6 month brainwashing and programming process aimed at getting the girl to say her dad abused her.  They used a series of negative reinforcements whenever the girl said dad was innocent and offered positive reinforcements if she would say dad had said X or Y.  Eventually, the little girl broke and told the state what they wanted to hear, but quickly recanted and held to the original story of her dad's innocent, all the way through the trial.

So, as quickly as we could, we set the dad free  (the last jury holdout, interestingly, was a big Oprah fan).  No one ever compensated for states abuse of the dad, and perhaps even worse, the states psychological abuse of his daughter.  I know nothing of what became of them, but I hope they are all OK.  I guess its lucky he did not get convicted, because while the Innocence project has freed a lot of people in Dallas, it sure is not going to work on this type of case with Janet Reno on its board.

Coming back to the YFZ case, I am worried that the state seems to be wanting to hold the kids for as long as possible, presumably to apply these methods to start getting kids to adopt the stories of abuse prosecutors want to hear.  In some ways, the YFZ case is even more dangerous from a prosecutorial abuse standpoint.  That is because there are a large number of people who think that strong religious beliefs of any type are, well, weird, and therefore are quicker to believe that other weird behavior may also be present.

Posted on April 24, 2008 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Laughing at Florida and Michigan

I must say I am laughing my butt off at the states of Michigan and Florida.  If they had kept their original primary dates, their elections would likely have been critical, if not decisive, in the Democratic nomination.  Both would have gotten full-bore candidate attention, much as Ohio and now Pennsylvania have.  It could have been them who were joining Iowa in the great vote sell-off, trading delegates for promises of ethanol subsidies or whatever the states are perceived to want.  But instead, in a bid to become more relevant, they tried to skirt the rules and in the process became irrelevant.  So instead of promising Floridians that they will enhance old age benefits or doing something with Cuba, the candidates instead are out there promising Pennsylvanians and Ohioans that they will throttle our North American trading partners.

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 11:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Arthur C. Clarke Was Wrong, So Progress Must Have Stopped

Neo-Erlichism from Paul Krugman:

Much of what I did back then was look for estimates of the cost of alternative energy sources, which played a big role in Nordhaus’s big paper that year. (Readers with access to JSTOR might want to look at the acknowledgments on the first page.) And the estimates — mainly from Bureau of Mines publications — were optimistic. Shale oil, coal gasification, and eventually the breeder reactor would satisfy our energy needs at not-too-high prices when the conventional oil ran out.

None of it happened. OK, Athabasca tar sands have finally become a significant oil source, but even there it’s much more expensive — and environmentally destructive — than anyone seemed to envision in the early 70s.

You might say that this is my answer to those who cheerfully assert that human ingenuity and technological progress will solve all our problems. For the last 35 years, progress on energy technologies has consistently fallen below expectations.

I’d actually suggest that this is true not just for energy but for our ability to manipulate the physical world in general: 2001 didn’t look much like 2001, and in general material life has been relatively static. (How do the changes in the way we live between 1958 and 2008 compare with the changes between 1908 and 1958? I think the answer is obvious.)

My goodness, its hard to know where to start.  Forgive me if I do not remain well-organized in this post, but there is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to start.

A forecast is not reality

First and foremost, the fact that forecasters, whether they be economists or science fiction writers, are wrong on their forecasts does not say anything about the world they are trying to model -- it merely says that the forecasters were wrong.  The fact that the the Canadian will be wrong in its prediction that 4.5 billion people will die by 2012 due to global warming does not mean that the physical world will somehow have changed, it means that the people at the Canadian are idiots.  The fact that an ice shelf in Antarctica collapsed earlier than one forecaster expected does not mean global warming is accelerating, it means the forecaster was wrong.

In fact, I can play this kind of game in exactly the opposite way in the energy field.  I can point out that economists like Krugman predicted that we were going to be out of oil (and food, etc) by 1980, then by 1985, and later by 1990, and by 2000, and by... now.  Does the fact of their continuing forecast errors on oil supply and demand tell us anything meaningful about oil markets, or does it tell us something about economists?  He practically begs for this counter-example by titling his article "limits to growth..." which hearkens back to the horribly wrong sky-is-falling forecasts in the 1970s by the likes of the Club of Rome and Paul Ehrlich. 

Advances in Energy

But his key statement is that progress on alternative energy technologies has consistently fallen below expectations?  Whose expectations?  Certainly not mine, or those of the knowledgeable energy industry insiders, who have been consistently pessimistic about most of these alternatives over the last decade or two.   Perhaps they have fallen below Krugman's or Greenpeace's expectations, but so what?

At this point, though it is embarrassing to have to point this out to a man who once was a real economist rather than a political hack, I must remind Mr. Krugman that since we are talking about substitutes for oil, then perhaps oil prices might have something to do with this "lack of progress."  Because, while we may tend to forget the fact over the last few years, for 20 of the last 25 years oil prices have been, on a real basis, near all-time lows.  They languished for decades at $20 or less, a price level that made the economics of substitutes impossible.  Nobody is going to put real money into substitutes when oil is at $16 or so.  Exxon, for example, had huge money invested in LaBarge, WY oil shale in the late 70's until decades of middling oil prices in the eighties and nineties forced them to pull the plug.  Ditto everyone and everything else, from shale oil to coal gasification.  And I can't even believe any sentient adult who lived through this period actually needs it pointed out to him that maybe there are non-technical reasons breeder nuclear reactors have not advanced much, like say the virtual shutdown of the nuclear business by environmentalists and local governments.

I will myself confess to being a bit surprised that solar efficiencies have not advanced very much, but again I remind myself that until the last few years, there was virtually no economic justification for working much with the technology. 

But all this masks another fact:  One of the reasons that these technologies have not advanced much is due to the absolutely staggering advances in oil exploration and production technology.  The last 35 years has seen a revolution, from computer reservoir modeling to horizontal drilling to ultra deep sea oil production to CO2 floods, it is in many ways a totally new industry.

Here is the way to decode what Mr. Krugman is saying:  It is not that the energy industry is not making huge technology gains, but that it is making gains in areas that Mr. Krugman did not expect, and, even more likely, it is not making its gains in the areas that Mr. Krugman wanted them to be.

Other technological advances

But Mr. Krugman did not stop there.  He could not resist throwing out a bit more red meat when he posits that all of our advances over the last 50 years in manipulating the material world have been disappointing.  Really?  Again, by what metric?  The revolution in computing alone has been staggering, and I feel like I could just say "Moore's Law" and leave my rebuttal at that.  Kevin Drum, oddly, suggests that Krugman means to say "besides computers" by using the "manipulate the physical world" wording.  If so, that is pretty hilarious.  Saying that "when you leave out computing and semiconductors, we haven't done much with technology over the last 50 years" is roughly equivalent to saying "leaving out the energy revolution and the application of steam power, there was not much progress in the early industrial revolution."   It's a stupid, meaningless distinction.  I am sure he would include a "car" in his definition of manipulating the physical world, but then how would you explain all those semiconductors under the hood?

But, that being said, I will take up the challenge.  Here are a number of technological revolutions besides computing and semiconductors over the last 50 years that clearly outstrip the previous 50:

  • Cost / Affordability Revolution.  One can argue that many of the technologies we enjoy today existed, at least in primitive form, in 1958.  But the vast majority of these items, from television to automobiles to air conditioning to long distance travel were playthings for the rich.  Over the last 50 years, we have found a way to revolutionize the cost and availability of all these items, such that most are available to everyone  (more on this below)
  • Reliability revolution.  In 1958, and even in 1968 and to a lesser extent in 1978, it was critical to have an address book full of good repair people.  Cars, televisions, home appliances, radios, air conditioners -- all were horrendously unreliable.  They could fail on you at any time, leaving you in an awkward or even dangerous spot, and repairs were common and expensive.  When I was a kid, we used to have a guy in our house at least twice a year fixing the TV -- when was the last time you saw a TV repair man?  I would argue that reliability (and this applies to industrial products as well) barely budged from 1908 to 1958, but has improved exponentially in the last 30-40 years.
  • Environmental and efficiency Revolution.  This one is no contest.  The environmental improvement -- in air quality, in water quality, in litter, in just about every category -- has shown substantially more improvement since 1958 than it did in the first half of the century.  This one is no contest
  • Safety revolution.  While there are ways in which this has gone too far, there is no denying that a huge amount of engineering over the last 50 years has gone into making products and services safer to use and operate.  And by the way, on the topic of flying cars (everyone likes to lament, "where is my flying car") could one not imagine that one reason we don't have flying cars is that anyone who is smart enough to design one is smart enough to know the government is never going to let people fly around willy-nilly, so maybe there is no mass market for them worth the investment and time?
  • Bio-medical revolution.  In less than 20 years from the time the world really recognized and understood the AIDS virus, science had a fairly good treatment for it.  And people complained it took too long!  Think of it -- a new, totally foreign virus that is extremely deadly appears nearly out of nowhere, and science cracks it in 2 decades.  No such ability existed before 1958.
  • Communications and Entertainment revolution.  1958:  Three US TV networks.  2008: 300 million people with the ability to broadcast their thoughts, their movies, their works of art to the world.  'nuff said.

In many ways, all of these thoughts come together if we look at a car.  Its easy to say that cars have not changed much - no wings yet!  But in fact, a car mechanic from 1909 would have a fighting chance to work on a 1958 engine.   No way a 1958 mechanic could make much progress with a 2008 internal combustion engine, much less a hybrid.  A car in 1958 was nearly as unsafe, and unreliable, and inefficient, and polluting, as a car in 1908.  Today, all of these have improved by orders of magnitude.  In addition, our cars have air conditioning and leather seats and hard-top convertible roofs and satellite radios and DVD players for the kids.  And mostly, the don't rattle like they used to after 6000 miles.

Material Life

But Krugman is still not done throwing out red meat, as he concludes that material life has not improved much over the last 50 years, and the answer is "obvious", to him at least, as to whether it has improved more in the last 50 years or the previous 50 years. 

Well, first I would observe that one should probably not trust people in data-based professions like economics who say that the answers to complicated questions are obvious without feeling the need to put any facts on the table.  By so positing, he looks extraordinarily lazy compared to folks like Steven Levitt who are out there trying to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable.

But the question is not at all obvious to me.  I suppose one could argue that the very rich have not seen much change in their material condition.  In 1958 they could jet around the world and had televisions and air conditioning and could afford the costs of unreliable products  (it does not matter so much if your car breaks down a lot if you can afford to have five or six cars).

But is strikes me that the material condition of the poor and middle class have improved markedly over the last 50 years.  As I mentioned before, there has been a revolution in the price and availability of what used to be luxury items:

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

  • Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

  • Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

  • Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

  • Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

What has not improved

To bring us back full circle, the one thing I would argue that definitely has not improved much is forecasting and modeling.  It appears from Krugman in this article (and form global warming modelers)  that orders of magnitude increases in computing power have improved neither the hubris of the modelers nor the quality of their forecasts.  I am sure I could as easily find someone in 1958, or even 1908, out there crying "My forecast is fine - its reality that's broken!"

OK, I am spent.  I am sure there is more that could be said on this, but I will leave the rest to you guys.

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 11:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

Modern Witch Trials

Kevin Drum, while sympathetic (as we all are) to the plight of parents of kids with autism, is obviously frustrated that a few people with no science behind them are causing kids to go un-vaccinated.  Both he and Megan McArdle suggest some reasons for this.  I added this in the comment section:

It all strikes me as part of the general rebellion against reason we see today, alas.

Last week in my class on the late Middle Ages, we learned about the early origins of witchcraft denunciations. Most denunciations were initiated by someone who had undergone a tragedy that seemed inexplicable -- e.g. the death of a loved one due to disease or a crop failure or, most commonly, the death of a child. It seems to be part of human nature to seek out something or someone to blame, and in this case people latched onto the least sympathetic, most marginalized people around them (often widowed women) and accused them of witchcraft as the cause for their tragedy.

The parallels, to me, are striking. I think many of the witchcraft accusers had the same motivation with the Thimerosal crowd, with only the target changing (now drug companies are the unsympathetic ones). The only real difference is that we have in fact added a positive feedback to this point of human nature, by creating a tort system dominated by sympathy over reason, which tends to pay off on such wild accusations of witchcraft. 

Breast implant makers?  Burn them!  Vaccine manufacturers?   Burn them!  Obstetricians?  Burn them!

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Phoenix Lights Return

Apparently, the Phoenix Lights may have returned last night:

Arizona Republic reporter Anne Ryman, who lives in Deer Valley, reported seeing four lights in a square shape that eventually became a triangular shape. The lights were moving to the east and they disappeared one by one. She said the lights were visible for about 13 minutes at about 8 p.m...

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said that air traffic controllers at Sky Harbor Airport also witnessed the lights, but they do not know the cause.

The incident is similar to the "Phoenix Lights" seen on March 13, 1997. Thousands of residents reported seeing a mile-wide, v-shaped formation of lights over the Valley. In that case the lights appeared about 7:30 p.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m.

My friend Brink helpfully sent me an email this morning saying, "The UFOnauts are coming.  Watch out for anal probes."   Always good advice, I guess.

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

When Penguins Fly

I thought this was a pretty clever video the BBC came up with (on April 1?) to promote their video service. 

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thoughts for the Day

Happy Birthday Vladimer Lenin Earth Day.  I have a few thoughts for the day:

Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

Observe today how little of the discussion is about anything other than climate.  There are still many environmental issues in the world that can be improved by the application of man's effort and technology -- unfortunately, climate is the least of these but the issue getting the most attention.  Consider how the global warming panic has sucked the oxygen out of the environmental movement.  Ten years from now, I predict that true environmentalists will be looking back on the hysteria over trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere as a huge setback for real environmental progress.

Environmentalism and Socialism

If you attend any Earth Day events today, notice how many of the speeches and presentations and such are anti-corporate, anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-wealth screeds, and have little to do with the environment.  If you actually go to a live Earth Day event, you will see why the selection of Lenin's birthday was no accident.  You will not see this on the network news, because the media is sympathetic to the environmental movement and tends to edit the socialist rants out as PR protection for the environmentalists, knowing that American audiences would lose sympathy for them if they listened to the whole package. (This is mostly an American phenomenon - I have found from my brief travels in Europe that the media there does less such editing, perhaps because they know their audience is more comfortable with socialism).

The Climate Denier Trick

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried about "inaction" on global warming.  To justify the enormously expensive cuts in CO2 productions, on the order of 80% as supported by Obama and Clinton, one has to believe every element of a five-step logic chain:

  1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
  2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
  3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
  4. The increases in world temperatures due to man's CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
  5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

Climate alarmists have adopted a rhetorical trick that no one in the media seems willing to call them on.   They like to wage the debate over global warming policy on points one and two only, skipping over the rest.  Why?  Because the science behind numbers one and two are pretty strong.  Yes, there are a few folks who will battle them on these points, but even very strong skeptics like myself accept points one and two as proved. 

Here are some examples of how this trick works.  If, like me, you do not accept steps 3-4-5 in the above logic chain, you will be called a "denier."  When asked what a denier means, a climate alarmist will often position this denial as somehow disputing #1 and #2.  On the other hand, if one publicly accepts #1 and #2, the alarmist will shout "QED" and then proceed to say that strong action on CO2 is now justified.  When an alarmist says that the a consensus exists, he is probably correct on points 1 and 2.  But he is absolutely incorrect that a consensus exists on 3-4-5.

Don't believe me?  Think back to the early Republican debate, where the moderator asked for a show of hands whether [I can't remember the exact question] man was causing global warming.  The implication is that you either have to accept this whole logic chain or not.  One can see why Fred Thompson begged to have 90 seconds to explain his position, and why the moderator, presumably in the alarmist camp, denied it to him. 

Over the last year or two, skeptics have gotten a lot better at making their argument.  Most all of them, like I do, begin their arguments by laying out a logic chain like this and explaining why one can believe that man-made greenhouse gases cause warming without accepting the need for drastic climate action.  The result?  Alarmists have stopped debating, and/or have declared that the debate is "over."  Remember that last great Al Gore climate debate?  Neither do I.

The Single Best Reason Not To Be Worried About Climate

I could, and have, in my books and videos, made arguments on many points in 3-4-5 (links at the bottom of the post).  In four, no one ever considers the good effects of warming (e.g. on growing seasons and crop yields) and most every other problem is greatly exaggerated, from hurricane formation to sea level rises.  And in five, every time someone has tried to put a price on even small reductions in CO2, the numbers are so enormous that they are quickly suppressed by a environmentalist-sympathetic media.  Suffice it to say that even the climate-sanctimonious Europeans have not been willing to pay the price for even slowing down their CO2 growth (which has risen faster than in the US), much less reducing it.

But in this logic chain, there is little need to argue about four and five if #3 is wrong.  And it is.

The effects of CO2 acting alone on temperatures are quite small -- And everyone, even the alarmists, agree!  A doubling of CO2 concentrations, without other effects that we will discuss in a moment, will heat the earth no more than about 1 degree Celsius (though several studies recently have argued the number is much less).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments [IPCC text quoted here].  In fact, the IPCC in their reports has steadily reduced their estimate of the direct contribution of CO2 on temperatures.  CO2, acting alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback. This is why saying that greenhouse gas theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the argument about catastrophic forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.

In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They assume that the net effect is positive, and in fact strongly so - on the order of 60-80% feedback or more, nearly unprecedented numbers for a long-term stable physical system [more on feedback and its math here].  This is particularly ironic because alarmist Michael Mann, with his hockey stick, famously posited that temperatures over the last 1000 years were incredibly flat and stable until man started burning fossil fuels, a proposition that is hard to believe if the climate is dominated by strong positive feedback.   Note that when people like Al Gore say things like "tipping point," they are in effect hypothesizing that feedback is greater than 100%, meaning that climate can be a runaway process, like nuclear fission.

In fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks. Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since admitted).

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that, unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years, while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols, despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over 5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum temperature records set).  There are many reasons to believe that man's actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

Update: Very relevant article by Roy Spencer on the over-estimation of feedback in climate models.

Many of us, especially those who were trained as meteorologists, have long questioned the climate research community’s reliance on computerized climate models for global warming projections.  In contrast to our perception that the real climate system is constantly readjusting to internal fluctuations in ways that stabilize the system, climate models built upon measured climate behavior invariably suggest a climate system that is quite sensitive - sometimes catastrophically sensitive — to perturbations such as those from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to articulate our ‘hand-waving’ concerns in ways that the modelers would appreciate, i.e., through equations.   

After years of pondering this issue, and after working on our two latest papers on feedbacks (Spencer et al., 2007; Spencer and Braswell, 2008, hereafter SB08), I believe that I can now explain the main reason for this dichotomy.   Taking the example of clouds in the climate system, the issue can be introduced in the form of a question:

To what extent are climatic variations in clouds caused by temperature change (feedback), versus temperature change being the result of cloud variations? 

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

City Branding

This is the kind of local government silliness that really drives me up a tree.  The town of Peoria, Arizona (Peoria is basically a suburb of Glendale which in turn is a suburb of Phoenix) apparently has paid $81,000 for a new town logo:

Peoria's new tagline, "Naturally Connected," came under attack this week.

The city is working on establishing a brand name to better market itself.

"Naturally connected?" resident Dolores Ceballos said at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "I'm still trying to feel it here. I can't find it.

"Nine years ago, I moved here, not because of a logo. I came for the downtown and for the schools."

Ceballos questioned the city's expenditure of taxpayer dollars for such an endeavor.

Peoria has paid $81,000 to North Star Destinations Strategies in Tennessee, which developed the tagline and new logo that features the city's name with swirling lines and Southwestern colors of blue, green and brown.

But what the Republic misses, but those of us with any business experience understand, the logo development, overpriced as it may be, is only a fraction of the branding effort.  The town is going to have to spend 10x this amount to start pushing the logo and the craptacular "naturally connected" tagline into peoples' faces. 

Corsette said that because the tagline and logo are not in use yet, it's hard for people to feel a connection.

"It's not surprising people don't get it," he said. "Once we start using it in context of everything the city does, it will resonate with people and take on some meaning and it will be a positive thing for us."

An important component to the draft manual is the education of the public and city employees, he said.

Can't wait to see the time and effort on the manual and training effort that will go into educating public employees on how to use the logo.

Posted on April 21, 2008 at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

My New Favorite Audio Device

About two years ago I made the time investment to rip all my CD's to digital  (this was a real death-march, at 20 CDs a night for a month).  In doing so, I actually ripped every one of them twice:  once into a small, variable bit-rate MP3 file for my iPod, and a second time into a much larger FLAC digital file  (this is an open-source lossless compression format).  All the FLAC files sit on an old computer on my network that does nothing but act as a file server for these music files.

Now, having lots of nice, high quality digital files, the trick is to play them through my home audio system.  My first solution was an iPod dock on my home audio system, but I found this awkward.  Next, I added a Squeezebox from SlimDevices, a small inexpensive box that hangs on the network that basically takes the digital files off the network and puts then in an analog or digital signal my stereo system knows what to do with.    SlimDevices has always been a favorite among audiophiles, because of their open-source approach and their willingness to continue to improve their product with user feedback.  And, they are pretty reasonably priced.

Both of these solutions suffered from one problem.  My living room is fairly large, and while each system had a remote, the menu screen I was navigating was way over there, either on the small iPod screen or on the larger squeezebox screen.  Either way, I still did not like the ergonomics.

In their new version of the Squeezebox
, Slimdevices has come out with what I consider the near perfect streaming audio device.  The product consists two pieces.  First, the audio device, which is pretty small, that hangs on the network (either by cable or wireless) and does the same job as the old boxes I had, converting digital music files to a format my music equipment can handle.  The key area of improvement is in the remote control.   The remote communicates with your wireless network, and allows one to scroll through his whole music collection right on the remote in an interface nearly identical to the iPod, including album cover art if one so chooses. (click for larger view)

Duet_hero_500_2  

I have had this new Squeezebox for over a month now, and I love it.  For those of you with a lot of CDs, like I have, it is just amazing how much more I listen to my music collection with this setup.  In the old world of shuffling through CD cases in a rack, I would tend to get the same five or six in a rotation.  Now, I listen to much more.  The remote also has a headphone jack so it can operate like a portable music player  (as long as it is in range of your wireless network).

By the way, I know there are devices like this that are all-in-one, meaning that they have their own hard drive so you don't need to network it to a computer.  I find those boxes to be a) way expensive and b) difficult to upgrade.  The cost of a cheap computer (it does not need much of a processor to just serve digital files up to the network) with a good size hard drive is cheap, and is the perfect use for an old computer you have upgraded.  The only real flaw of this device is its inability to do video, but SlimDevices has always focused on audio and will probably stay that way.

Posted on April 20, 2008 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

This Is Pretty Funny

Funny video about the 2009 job market.  Ht:  Maxed Out Mamma

Posted on April 18, 2008 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Government-Think in Marion County, Florida

I just encountered an absolutely classic bit of government think.  Here is the background.

In Florida, on each night stay in the campgrounds we run in Marion County, we collect a 6% state sales tax, a 0.5% county sales tax, and a 2% tourist development tax, for a total of 8.5%.  Until this month, we reported and paid all three taxes to the state of Florida on one simple return.  The state then divvied the money up to the counties.  Apparently, this latter process could take up to 90 days before the County got their tourist development money.

The County commissioners of Marion County did not like waiting 90 days for their tourist development money.  Remember, this is not general revenue money, but supposedly trust fund money that must be spent on tourist advertising and the like.  Also, recognize that 90 days for a government body to disperse money is pretty normal - I find I often have to wait as long as 6 months to get a check out of the feds.

Anyway, the County wanted its money faster.  So it decided to collect the money itself.  First this involved more staff hours and designing a new online collection system, costs that are completely incremental because the state of Florida was performing these functions before (and still are performing them).  Today, it now requires two systems and clerical staffs to collect money that was once required by just one. 

Already, this seems like idiocy to any business person.  Is adding a whole new staff and systems really worth getting money 90 days faster?  I guess it is possible, but even if one could argue this point, we now get to the real government-think.  Because there is no way anyone in whatever cost-benefit trade-off they ran considered the time and effort that would be required of individual taxpayers.  Even in my small company, this will now require extra clerical labor each month as well as an initial system reprogramming to add the extra tax authority.  If one considers thousands of other businesses in the exact same position, the amount of investment is enormous.

But in my experience, when running cost-benefit trade-offs, the government never, ever considers investment and time required of the citizens who must comply.  I have seen governments make changes designed to save a few man-hours a month in their own clerical departments that cause thousands or millions of man-hours of extra work among taxpayers.   A year or two ago, Mono County, California forced us to go from one to twelve reports each month for our lodging tax payments just to save auditors a few hours work every three years.   And do you know why?  Because the government treats us all as serfs.  As far as they are concerned, our labor is free, because they have the power to compel us to do whatever they ask without compensation.

Postscript:  Here is my other Florida county tax collector pet peave.  All the tax collectors in Florida put their own personal name all over everything.  Their web site is not "marion county tax collector"  but "George Albright, Marion County Tax Collector." Their stationary has this man's name all over it.  When I right a check to them, I am supposed to include this man's name.  I hate this kind of public employee self-aggrandizement.  It is a blatant use of taxpayer money to try to aid one's next election chances, and it is a waste of money when a new person comes in office because every piece of printed material must be thrown out and reprinted.  This seems to be fairly unique to Florida.  Look at the Marion County links for other states in the same search and you don't see the same thing going on in those states.

Posted on April 17, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Firefox Version?

Perhaps it is a glitch in the tracking software, but my logs show that 90% of the Firefox browsers that come to this site are version 1.x rather than 2.x.  Is there a reason for this?  I have been on 2.x for quite a while and have a beta running of 3.x.

If you are still on version 1, Firefox automatic updater will not take you to version 2 automatically.  You need to do it yourself here.

(Of course, the logs show 0.2% of you still using Windows ME.  God help you.)

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 10:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

And the Winner Is...

Mixed news on the contest front.  My outline and draft novel did not make the finals of the Mackinac Center's Freedom in Fiction Prize.

However, my 3-minute climate video did win second place in the Kids and Globaloney contest

The results surprise me a bit.  I really felt good about my story concept for the fiction prize, so much so I will likely finish it and at least release it as an e-book.  On the other hand, I found the 3-minute limit almost impossible to make work in the video contest, and thought my video, which I include below, was rushed.

A better version is the 9-minute version here which covers the same subjects but with a bit more leisure and explanation.  This video, however, is a bit dated.  As I write in the YouTube comments, I want to take a better shot at explaining the issues around positive feedback.  I think I can fix it with just a rewrite of the narration.  That longer video is here and below.

My really long video, 60-minutes in 6 parts, is here.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Big Flashing Red Bullsh*t Alarm Going Off

Huge alarm bells are going off as I read this headline in the Arizona Republic, whose motto should be "Happy to credulously print any crazy number your lobbying group puts in a press release."  In this case, the headline reads:

Ariz. economy reaped $500M from Super Bowl

Uh, sure.  Right.  Bet that is a quality number.  Lets first vet the source.  Who provided the paper with this number?

A study released today by the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee estimates professional football's championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale generated an economic impact of $500.6 million for the state.

Oh, I see.  Certainly a disinterested party.  And how was this number arrived at?

Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business completed the economic-impact report based on surveys of more than 1,500 visitors who came to the Valley to attend the game or take part in festivities.

The survey revealed that visitors stayed in Arizona for an average of 3.9 nights and spent an average of $617 each day on hotels, food, alcohol, transportation, recreation, shopping and other categories. The report also calculated the amount that organizations dropped during Super Bowl week.

Well, its good to see the business school at America's #1 party college on the case.  I would have thought this would be a very challenging study to conduct.  In my naiveté, I might have assumed that these Superbowl visitors might have displaced other potential visitors who would have been there anyway.  I would have fixated on the fact that Superbowl week is also Phoenix Open week and, given the beautiful winter weather here, one of the prime tourist weeks of the year even without the Superbowl.  I might have wondered how hotel stays during a week when most local resort hotels are full anyway could have been credited to the Superbowl, particularly when many locals left town to avoid the scene.   I might have been worried that I was not counting truly incremental revenues, but the folks in the business school at the university with Americas hottest coeds must be smarter than I am.

So apparently, these geniuses have found a way to assume that 100% of this $617 per day times 3.9 days is incremental and that there is no substitution effect.  However, they have also managed to somehow assume that University of Phoenix Stadium is even larger than I thought.  Because using these numbers, the only way to get to $500 million is if there were nearly 210,000 visitors.  Wow.  This does not even include the thousands of us from Phoenix who were also in the stadium. 

Look, the way to do this study is simple.  You look at sales tax receipts in Maricopa county over the period of January 2007-February 2008.  You calculate an underlying growth rate.  Then you compare the sales tax receipts for the Superbowl months (Jan-Feb 2008) with the same months a year previously, and see how much growth there is, if any, above the underlying growth rate.  I will tell you the answer right now:  It ain't anywhere close to $500 million.  I will eat my hat if its over $50 million.

Here is a reality check:  In 2004 the entire retail trade, from restaurants to stores to hotels, was $16.4 billion for all of Arizona.  This is $315 million per week.  Basically the study is saying that the entire retail trade for the whole state of Arizona was more than doubled in Superbowl week. 

Bullshit.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 05:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

When is Curtailing Freedom the Mature and Wise Choice?

.... Uh, never.  Except of course at Colorado College, according to Amanda Udis-Kessler, Colorado College's Director of Institutional Research and Planning:

Social inequality is deeply grounded in a lack of respect-for women, people of color, lesbian and gay people, and others. When we choose to curtail our freedom to disrespect others in order to build a meaningful society, we have made a mature and wise choice-and one that college should help us learn.

The rest of the post is a roundup of the fallout over the punishment by the university of a parody of a campus feminist publication.  Basically, the argument boils down to the feminists feeling "dissed" and arguing that being dissed is a sufficient reason to curtail speech if one is in a protected group.   But remember this plea by the Colorado College feminists:

But please stop fabricating a story about humorless, offended feminists silencing men's free speech.

Oh, okay.

There are enough cases of this new theory of speech running around, that speech may be curtailed if someone in a protected group feels hurt or challenged by the speech, for real concern.  It is the same theory at the heart of the kerfuffle in Canada over the human rights commission's attack on conservative magazines and bloggers, and the same theory in the recent New Mexico decision that a photographer cannot choose not to photograph gay marriages.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 05:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Lost Art of the Business Letter

Way back around 1985, when I was an entry-level engineer at Exxon, the company had a training session with a writing instructor.  The course, if it had a name, could be called "the art of the business memo." 

Now, I know that you 20-somethings in the world of text messaging and soon-to-be-f*cked internet companies are probably cringing at the thought of learning to write business memos the Fortune 50 way.  But there was something about this course I found compelling.  Since then, I have taken a lot of communications courses, particularly presentation courses, of varying utility.  McKinsey & Company taught me the pyramid principal for organizing persuasive letters and presentations, something that has been so useful to me that I wonder why none of the expensive schools I attended ever bothered to teach it.

To this day, I am still compelled by the perfect business letter.  I know this may seem weird, but I still remember several of my best efforts from years ago.  I sometimes go back and read them lovingly.  I have three lifetimes of projects that I would like to put together, but one fun one would be to put together a book collection of great business letters.  I fell like its an art that should better recognized.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this by this letter that has been linked around the blogosphere a bit this morning.

Posted on April 16, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

100% of People With No Mortgage Payment Rate their Mortgage Payment as "Fair"

Apparently, according to one survey, a majority of people think their taxes are "fair"

Fairtax

The 60% is an interesting figure.  It also roughly corresponds to the percentage of people who get more government benefits back than they pay in taxes:

Taxfoundation

So 60% of the people vote themselves goodies from the other 40%, and coincidently, 60% of the people think the arrangement is fair.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 10:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Just Because We Elect Them Now...

Richard Conniff in the NYT:

But we need language to remind us that this is our government, and that we thrive because of the schools and transit systems and 10,000 other services that exist only because we have joined together. Instead of denouncing taxes, politicians would do better to appeal to the patriotic corners of our hearts that warm to phrases like “we the people.” “Taxation” is a throwback to the time when kings picked our pockets. “Paying my dues,” a phrase popularized in the jazz music world, is language by which we can stand together as Americans.

I am confused as to what the substantial difference is between 1 king picking our pockets and 535 kings picking our pockets.   Just because I get the annual opportunity to cast a meaningless vote between the Coke and Pepsi party does not change my view of government. 

To my mind, this is the #1 incorrect perception people have about the American Revolution.  So many people, like this author, seem to think it was about voting and democracy.  Bleh.  The Revolution was about the relationship between human beings and government.  Voting was merely one tool among many the founders adopted to try to protect man from government.  Unfortunately, this intellectual battle is being lost. 

JFK was the president that first made it clear that those of us who love freedom have been losing this battle.  In his famous quote "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country,"  JFK defined the heads-statists-win-tails-freedom-loses choice that people like Mr. Conniff continue to try to present us with.   These collectivists define our relation to government as either the recipient of unearned loot or milch cow to the whims of the voters.  Neither part of JFK's challenge represents a relation between man and government a freedom-loving person should accept.

More on why voting is not what makes our country great here.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

What We Learn About Climate and Public Policy from Y2K

Remember Y2K?  If you took the media and politicians seriously, this sure did seem like it was going to big a big apocalyptic deal (see survey in the postscript about economic depression and civil insurrection).  Until it wasn't.

Odd Citizen points to an interesting study on this topic.  The author links this Australian study looking retrospectively at the Y2K scare, trying to understand why an irrational collective hysteria developed that allowed for no skepticism (seem familiar).  The whole thing is interesting, but here is the money quote:

From the perspective of public administration, the two most compelling observations relate to conformity and collective amnesia. The response to Y2K shows how relatively subtle characteristics of a policy problem may produce a conformist response in which no policy actors have any incentive to oppose, or even to critically assess, the dominant view. Moreover, in a situation where a policy has been adopted and implemented with unanimous support, or at least without any opposition, there is likely to be little interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy have outweighed the benefits.

The article is written without any reference to current climate issues, but wow, does this sound familiar?  It is a dead-on description of what is occurring with global warming. 

The author also goes on to discuss public choice theory and why it is not necessarily a good explanatory model for the Y2K scare.  He argues that a better explanation was the asymmetry of blame:

Individuals and groups who argued for a 'fix on failure' approach stood to benefit only modestly if this approach avoided unnecessary costs, but faced the risk of blame in the event of significant system failures attributable (accurately or otherwise) to Y2K related problems. Conversely, it was evident in advance that there was little risk of loss to individuals who advocated comprehensive remediation. The absence of any serious Y2K problems could always be attributed to the success of the remediation program.

The asymmetry of incentives was amplified by the possibility of litigation, particularly in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in other English-speaking countries. The reliance of the United States on tort litigation as a method of compensating those experiencing adverse outcomes of various kinds produces a strong bias in favour of 'defensive' expenditures. In particular, jurors have been highly unsympathetic to individuals and organisations that have chosen to disregard known low-probability risks.

The special characteristics of the Y2K problem were ideally suited to produce this kind of reaction. On the one hand, the problem was both widespread and comprehensible to non-experts, such as potential jurors. On the other hand, if 'embedded systems' are disregarded, the Y2K problem differed from most other computer 'bugs' in that a complete solution was feasible, though very expensive.

In these circumstances, litigation against organisations that had failed to undertake comprehensive Y2K remediation, and experienced any form of system breakdown in early 2000, was virtually guaranteed of success. By contrast, the risk of blame being allocated to organisations that overspent on Y2K remediation was perceived to be minimal. The absence of litigation or other processes for the allocation of blame in the aftermath of the Y2K non-event shows that this perception was accurate.

A rough parallel to this in the global warming world is the apparent ease of assigning blame for CO2 emissions to energy producers and car manufacturers (despite the fact that it is all of us who uses this energy and buys these cars) vs. the reluctance of media and others to quantify and assign blame for reductions in wealth and economic prosperity that might result from CO2 limitations.

Postscript:  One other thing that is interesting to me as a libertarian:  I often point out that the political parties are a joke, a mish-mash of shifting political positions that has little to do with deeply held theories of government and more to do with branding and populist electioneering.  The Y2K-Climate comparison caused me to find a good example.  In 1999, it was the Republicans using the Y2K issue as a club on the Democrats, arguing that the Clinton Administration, and Al Gore in particular, were ignoring this critical end-of-the-world crisis and that the government needed to be doing more.  Really.  Just check this out from Dec, 1999:

Last year, The National Journal devoted an entire issue to the subject, with headlines such as "The Big Glitch" and "Sorry, Al, This Bug’s for You." In the special issue, Neil Munro cites a survey of industry and government executives and programmers concerning potential fallout from the millennium bug, showing that 70 percent anticipated a negative effect on the economy, with 10 percent of respondents not ruling out the possibility of economic depression and civil insurrection.   

With a technology problem of this magnitude on the national horizon, where was the leadership of the nation’s No. 1 techno-nerd and self-proclaimed creator of the "information superhighway," Vice President Al Gore?   

Gore’s familiarity with and personal interest in technology, specifically computer technology, makes suspect his long silence on the Y2K issue.   

In his biography, "Gore: A Political Life," Bob Zelnick writes that Gore "had nothing to say during the first five-and-a-half years of his vice presidency about the biggest problem in the history of high-tech America."

Let the record show that I was a Y2K skeptic before I was a climate skeptic.

I may be making common cause with some Republicans on the climate issue at the moment, but I don't trust them.  In fact, already we see McCain jumping on the climate bandwagon (as he does with every populist issue -- he believes in nothing) and I have a strong sense GWB may dive into the climate fray quite soon.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

A Few Tax Day Thoughts

From Jane Galt:

All this useless activity is so that our politicians can look like They Care by giving tiny tax breaks to all of their favorite people--that is to say, the people who vote for them and give them money. All of these tax breaks, almost without exception, do the most good for the people who least need them. Meanwhile, they waste time for the rest of us, distort the economy, and require us to pay extra people to process tax returns. It's lose-lose-lose all around unless you owned a seal-fur farm between 1987 and 1991.

She also outlines her alternative tax plan.

From the Beatles (yes, those guys)   (Beatles, Robin Hood, and of course they perform the song)

From yours truly, the five worst traits about taxes

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Algae have extraordinarily diverse sex lives

OK, I buried the lede.  The post is actually not the sex lives of algae.  But I was fascinated that CNN chose to list this among the "story highlights" of this article.  The story supports my sense that if biofuels are ever going to make sense, they are not going to be made from corn.  The story also reinforces the notion that biofuels are just another type of solar energy, though they are in fact even more inefficient than our not-there-yet solar panels in converting sunlight to usable energy.  The only reason biofuels currently look more economic than solar are the enormous operating subsidies and the much lower capital costs  (though even the latter is open to argument since biofuels have huge capital costs in terms of land, but that generally is factored in as "zero" because the land is already being farmed.)

Before you get too excited about algae, note from the picture that the algae at this farm is grown in plastic packets that I would bet my life require more hydrocarbons to produce than the algae inside them provides.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Save XP

If you are happy with Vista, fine.  Polls show that the majority of us are not.  I continue to order all of our company PCs with XP and have downgraded all of my home PCs back to XP.  If you want to try to get Microsoft's attention to keep XP past the June 30 stop-sell date, check out this petition.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Duh

A reader pointed me to this article about a really amazing piece of government science:

A strong and deadly earthquake is virtually certain to strike on one of California's major seismic faults within the next 30 years, scientists said Monday in the first official forecast of statewide earthquake probabilities.

They calculated the probability at more than 99 percent that one or more of the major faults in the state will rupture and trigger a quake with a magnitude of at least 6.7.

Uh, okay.  Next up:  California demonstrates more than a 99% chance that I will be dead in 100 years.  I would also give them the false precision award:

An even more damaging quake with a magnitude of 7.5 or larger, the earthquake scientists said, is at least 46 percent likely to hit on one of California's active fault systems within the next three decades.

Are they really sure that its not 46.1%?

"The report's details should prove invaluable for city planners, building code designers, and home and business owners who can use the information to improve public safety and mitigate damage before the next destructive earthquake occurs," said geophysicist Ned Field of the Geological Survey, who headed the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities, which developed the forecasts.

Really?  How?  They should have given me the money and I would have written a two sentence report:  "You are going to have an earthquake in the future -- duh, its California.  Plan for it."

Update: A reader notes that this was funded by some insurance companies or trade group, and the whole point is the unspoken message "insurance rates are going up."  You guys are so cynical.

Posted on April 15, 2008 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

America's Worst Sheriff

I am working on a longer post on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's sweeps through Hispanic neighborhoods to round up the usual suspects (Mayor Phil Gordon has asked the feds to investigate these practices, which I hope they will do).

But this one is just weird.  Apparently Phoenix tax money is being used by Arpaio to train Honduran police, in a program that makes sense (from a Phoenix point of view) to no one.  Sheriff Joe watchers will enjoy his numerous nonsensical explanations, though the last one probably is the correct one.  For those outside of Phoenix, sit back and enjoy the weirdness -- its the only consolation we here in Arizona get for having the worst and most abusive sheriff in the country.

Explanation One:  Arpaio looks to small Latin American countries as models for his police force

Sheriff's officials told the county Board of Supervisors that the Honduran National Police possess the "intelligence data, knowledge and cultural experiences to benefit the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

Explanation Two:  We can't tell you, because it would endanger Sheriffs' lives (this is an Arpaio oldie but goodie):

discussing efforts in Honduras could endanger the lives of law-enforcement officers in both countries....revealing details could put lives at risk

Explanation Three:  Honduras supplied millions of photos for Arpaio's facial recognition software (yeah, I know non-Phoenicians, this is weird)

The sheriff's facial-recognition software program is supposed to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the Honduras engagement....When Arpaio was first confronted about the department's trips to Honduras, he said the agency had received "millions" of photos from Honduran officials.

Explanation Four:  Its a RICO thing, so we can't tell you (at least, it uses RICO funds)

The agency has spent more than $120,000 on Sheriff's Office employee salaries in Honduras, and an additional $30,000 in RICO funds seized from criminals. And some of the trips occurred during a time period where the Sheriff's Office overspent its overtime budget by nearly $1 million.

Explanation Five:  We can't talk about it, because that would open up public officials to scrutiny for their actions:

The Sheriff's Office will not grant interviews to explain how and why the program was started and what the benefits are to Maricopa County, because officials say discussing the program fuels criticism

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

On Honest Engineering Discourse

TJIC links to this great story about the engineer for the Citicorp building who realized, after the building was erected and occupied, that he had made a mistake that could make the building unsafe in high wind loads.  He raised his hand, called a penalty stroke on himself, and got the thing fixed when many others might have rationalized away taking action.  Fortunately, he was respected for doing so:

Before the city officials left, they commended LeMessurier for his courage and candor, and expressed a desire to be kept informed as the repair work progressed. Given the urgency of the situation, that was all they could reasonably do. "It wasn't a case of 'We caught you, you skunk,'" Nusbaum says. "It started with a guy who stood up and said, 'I got a problem, I made the problem, let's fix the problem.' If you're gonna kill a guy like LeMessurier, why should anybody ever talk?"

I continue to worry, though, that we are actively aligning incentives against having a quality, open engineering dialog.  In any engineering discussion, I don't think there has been a good safety dialog unless someone takes the position that the design (or drug, or whatever) is still unsafe.  Someone needs to advocate the position that the plan is unsafe even if that position is a straw man.  An open process encourages everyone to raise potential issues, even if these issues turn out not to be problems.

Unfortunately, in court, the very existance of such a discussion is used as evidence of liability.  Plaintiff's lawyers wave internal memos at juries showing them that concern existed about safety.  The very healthy definition of a good safety engineering process - a concern and discussion about safety - is turned into evidence of its lack.  More here.

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible.

I would never have thought it possible to position Hillary Clinton as the down-to-earth joe sixpack candidate, but somehow Obama managed it.

Post title from here.

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The End is Near

For at least the last thousand years, western society has always had a hard core of doom-sayers who like to climb to the rooftops to shout that the end of the world is close at hand.  I am not a good enough student of history to know if this is a predictably human trait, or if it is uniquely tied to western religions like Christianity.  Certainly the Medieval millenarian streak was tied closely to the prophesies of Christianity.

Whether initially Christian or not, end-of-the-worldism is now the provenance of many fringe secular groups, not the least of which are the environmentalists.  In fact, the current global warming panic fits right into a long history of end-of-the-worldism, though I also think it has strong elements of socialism and youth culture guilt and lacks the optimism of Christian millenarianism.

Today's humorous does of doom comes right here from Arizona, via professor Guy McPherson of the University of Arizona.  Incredibly, our local media treats this interview straight up, without even the snark they would bring to, say, the article they wrote about me and other local climate skeptics.

First, let me explain Empire: We exploit humans and resources, often with extreme violence, to provide Americans with indulgences beyond belief to most people.

Had we started the project of powering down at least 30 years ago, there might still be time. At this point, I cannot imagine any steps that could allow us to avoid a meltdown of the economy or a relatively rapid transition into the post-industrial Stone Age. We depend on abundant, inexpensive oil for delivery of food, water, shelter, and health care. The days of abundant, inexpensive oil are behind us. The American Empire will soon run its course.

I am hopeful we can save a few tens of millions of Americans. But we will need to make massive changes in our entire way of life, starting immediately. We must abandon the project of globalization and its attendant indulgences, for example, and focus on saving lives.

Yes, oil production will indeed peak at some point, and may even be peaking now (though I doubt it).  But the rest of this is just ignorant. 

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Rewriting History

I was watching the History Channel last night and watching a show on the nuclear arms race.  Interestingly, they described the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba as happening before JFK took office, and then discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK's first interaction with Russia.  I find this to be really odd revisionism, and if it were not for Coyote's Law, I would ascribe this to the ongoing Kennedy family effort to polish JFK's historical legacy.  But, having written Coyote's Law, I will just assume the show's producers were ignorant.

Update: I take the point that the Bay of Pigs invasion was a CIA plan in the Eisenhower presidency.  However, JFK was deeply involved in the planning and decision to go ahead, and in fact he and his advisers actually modified the plan, including the invasion site, in ways that hurt the probability of success (if there ever was any).

Posted on April 12, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Obama's Campaign Against Individualism

I am becoming convinced that the frequent discussion of "diversity" among the leftish elite is really a mask for the fact that true diversity is in fact what they want to avoid.  By defining diversity along the least meaningful lines - e.g. skin color and type of genitalia - they mask the fact that what leftish technocrats hate the most is variation in thought.  After all, why have we been spending all that money on government schools all these years if it wasn't to generate such conformity? 

Michael Young sees Obama's recent anti-flyover-country snobbery in the same light:

While Obama is indeed engaging in spin, there is a far more disturbing aspect to his interpretation. He misses the essential nature of modern culture. People don't end up focusing on issues like the right to bear arms, gay marriage, faith-based and family-based issues, and the like, because of bitterness against Washington or a sense that they can't effect change there. People focus on these issues because modern American political culture is, effectively, about subcultures, variety, pursuing parochial aims, and shaping one's identity and personal agendas independently of the state. 

What Obama implicitly regards (in both his statements) as signs of disintegration, as reflections of popular frustration, are in fact examples of a thriving culture. Exceptions to this, of course, are anti-immigration sentiment and bigoted protectionism, both of which Obama conveniently dropped in his Indiana comments. Yet Obama's approach betrays a very suffocating vision of the state as the be-all and end-all of political-cultural behavior. Outside the confines of the state there is no salvation, only resentment. This is nonsense, but it also partly explains why Obama is so admired among educated liberals, who still view the state as the main medium of American providence.

Posted on April 12, 2008 at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Progressives Support Markets?

It may really be a new era, when markets rather than command-and-control government allocations and restrictions are advocated by progressives to allocate scarce resources.  In this case, the argument is especially surprising, since it is arguing for more open water markets.  For some reason, water is the last place anyone seems to want to apply pricing signals, something I have written on many times.

There are clear gains from having an active market in water rights. It would help solve the problems posed by current water shortages in the West, and it would provide the flexibility necessary to confront the impact of climate change on water supplies in the coming decades. It would be, in a word, fluid.

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Senior Government Official Using His Position to Presure Textbook Publishers

Anthony Watt has an interesting story of a senior NASA official using his government position to pressure textbook manufacturers to change their books to reflect his view of the world.

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dumbest Thing I Have Read Today

I agree with Kevin Drum, this is the dumbest thing I have read today:

There is a solution to the rising cost of oil, but it is a painful one. Let's say there is a lot of $20-a-barrel oil in the world — deep-sea oil, Canadian tar sands. But who would look for $20-a-barrel oil if someone else (Saudi Arabia) has lots of $5-a-barrel oil? The answer is: no one.

Basically, American taxpayers have to guarantee potential producers that the price in the future will not fall below $20 a barrel and that they will not lose their investments.

This is easy to do. The U.S. needs to guarantee that it will buy all of its oil at $20 a barrel before buying anything from OPEC. This forces the price of oil down to $20 a barrel, but it eliminates the possibility that it will ever go back to $5 a barrel.

The implication that no one will add capacity if there is anyone at all to the left of them on the supply curve is just silly, and defies history in any number of industries, including oil.  By this argument, no one would be building super-deep water oil platforms today.  The reason there is not more oil exploration today in certain areas of North America is that there are formal and informal government restrictions that make it hard and/or impossible.  And to the extent that oil companies are treating current oil prices as a bubble that will inevitably fall, all I can say is, bring it on. 

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

McCain Believes in Nothing

I am increasingly convinced that John McCain believes in nothing, or at least believes in nothing strong enough that he can't turn a 180 on the issue if the polling numbers move the meter hard enough

The plan would retire old loans that homeowners no longer can pay and replace them with less expensive, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages that are federally guaranteed. McCain said families would gain "the opportunity to trade a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects the market value of their home."

In line with his concern about bailing out speculators, McCain's proposal would apply only to homeowners who took out sub-prime mortgages after 2005 for homes that are their main residence. They would need to have proved they were credit-worthy at the time of the loan.

I hope everyone else is enjoying the notion of "sub-prime mortgages" where the borrowers were "credit-worthy at the time of the loan." 

Posted on April 11, 2008 at 08:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

If You Had Plans for the Property, You Should Have Bought It

Don't buy property in Paradise Valley (a suburb of Phoenix, near Scottsdale) if you actually expect the property to be fully your own.  Even the smallest revisions of your home can require multiple appearances in front of the town council.  By some odd statistical anomaly, property owners with friends in the city government seem to get these changes approved more readily than those without such influence. 

Anyway, things just get worse if you own a lot of land in PV

A residents group is preparing to launch a voter referendum against the planned Ritz-Carlton, Paradise Valley Resort, claiming the project's residences are too dense....

Scottsdale-based Five Star Development wants to build a 225-room resort hotel, 15 1-acre home sites, 46 luxury detached homes and 100 patio homes on about 105 acres northwest of Scottsdale Road and Lincoln Drive.

This really isn't very high density, but this can be a very flaky town.  One thing you have to realize is that I can't remember the last new home I saw go up in PV that was less than 5000 sq ft and 10,000+ sq ft is not at all unusual.  This may be one of the few cases where a town is trying to keep out the Ritz Carlton because its customers will bring down the neighborhood, lol, but that is exactly what is at work here, in part. 

Now I know you think I am exaggerating when I say the locals are worried about a Ritz-Carlton bringing down the neighborhood by attracting the unwashed, but here is the Zillow sales page for the area -- the vacant lot in the lower right is the property in question.

Zillow_pv

This piece of land has been empty and zoned for a resort for years.  I know it was zoned for a resort long before this sale because I was stuck in traffic court all day and had nothing to stare at but the town zoning map  (don't ever speed when crossing PV).  The buyers purchased this land several years ago (I think from the Wrigley family) after ensuring the zoning was solid.  If the town's residents wanted something else on the lot, they should have bought it themselves.  But it is ever so much cheaper to instead use your political influence to tell other people what they can and can't do with their property.

Another thought:  It is nearly an article of faith among libertarians that devolving government to the smallest possible unit enhances freedom.  Well, here is an example where it does not.  Not state or even city would pass a ballot resolution to change the zoning on one small piece of land.  But it is entirely possible this could pass in a town of just a few thousand people.

Posted on April 10, 2008 at 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Cargo Cult Economics

The Democratic party, which so often accuses others of adopting superstition over science, are themselves pursuing Medieval economics:

The Democratic Party's protectionist make-over was completed yesterday, when Nancy Pelosi decided to kill the Colombia free trade agreement. Her objections had nothing to do with the evidence and everything to do with politics, but this was an act of particular bad faith. It will damage the economic and security interests of the U.S. while trashing our best ally in Latin America.

The Colombia trade pact was signed in 2006 and renegotiated last year to accommodate Democratic demands for tougher labor and environmental standards. Even after more than 250 consultations with Democrats, and further concessions, including promises to spend more on domestic unemployment insurance, the deal remained stalled in Congress. Apparently the problem was that Democrats kept getting their way.

I am sure the Columbians, who for years have been told by the US to export something other than cocaine, are scratching their heads at this rebuff when they actually try to do so.  My sense is that the Democrats are reacting to this ugly picture of US manufacturing output post NAFTA:

Manufacturing

We can see that since the passage of NAFTA in the mid-1990s that US manufacturing output has, uh, has.... can that be right?

Posted on April 10, 2008 at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Wherein A Libertarian Argues For Regulation Enforcement

I got to thinking today about regulation and its enforcement in this imperfectly government-dominated world after reading this Jon Stewart quote as relayed by Kevin Drum:

With this administration, if a passenger blows up a plane, it's a failure in the war on terror. But if the plane just blows up on its own — eh, it's the market self-regulating.

What struck me that I had not thought of before is the question of whether non-enforcement of a published regulatory regime was the same as letting a market self-regulate.  And my answer was:  No, at least not in the short to medium term.

The reason is that the government regulatory regime crowds out private mechanisms that might attempt to achieve the same goals.  What do I mean by crowding out?  For example, if the government published car reliability metrics and regulation for all cars, no matter how imperfect, would JD Power and Consumer Reports bother with the investment to do the same?  For decades, insurance companies wrote de facto building codes and performed fire inspections of their insured structures.  They no longer do so, because the government has taken on that role (arguably less well than the insurance companies, who had the reputation of being tigers on such inspections).  Would Moody's exist to rank bond risks if the government had regulations in place that theoretically forced all securities to (I don't know how) have the same risk?  My marina liability insurer conducts occasional inspections of my marinas.

As a result, insurers don't inspect airlines, nor do manufacturers enforce inspection and replacement regimes (as automobile companies do, to some extent, to protect their warranty).  Third parties rate airlines for customer service but not for safety.  The whole private evaluation regime for airlines exists on the assumption that the government has regulatory program X and Y in place that is enforced.  In the long term, if the government were to abandon enforcement, and this lasted long enough for that expectation to exist in the market, new private regulatory methods would arise [arguments would most certainly exist between libertarians and others whether these new regimes were as effective as the old regime, but almost undoubtedly something would emerge].  But in the near term, we don't have a self-regulating market or even the expectation of one. 

As a result, I come to the conclusion that while deregulation may be needed, the absolute wrong way to do it is via non-enforcement of existing regulations.  So there you have it, a libertarian calls for better enforcement.  Comments?  I am just starting to think about this and would appreciate feedback.

Posted on April 9, 2008 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

On Presidential Power

While I find the torture recommendations in John Yoo's memos awful, they worry me less than the general assumptions embodied in them about presidential power.  After all, the issue of allowable tortures is a narrow issue that can be dealt with efficiently through Congressional legislation, and is almost certainly something to be disavowed by the next administration.

Based on historical precedent, what is less likely to be disavowed by the next administration are the broader definitions of presidential power adopted by GWB.  It is in this enhanced theory of presidential power where the real risk to the nation exists, and, unfortunately, there are all too few examples since George Washington's declining to run for office a third time of president's eschewing power.  Already, folks on the left are crafting theories around using the imperial presidency to address their favored issues, such as the University of Colorado's proposal for implementing greenhouse gas controls by executive fiat.

Posted on April 9, 2008 at 12:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Support Canadian Free Speech (Because These Same Tactics Are Being Tested in the US)

Via Five Feet of Fury:

Richard "The Boy Named Sue" Warman has finally filed his statement of claim.

Canada's busiest litigant, serial "human rights" complainant and -- the guy Mark Steyn has called "Canada’s most sensitive man" -- Richard Warman is now suing his most vocal critics -- including me.

The suit names:

•    Ezra Levant (famous for his stirring YouTube video of his confrontation with the Canadian Human Rights tribunal after he published the “Mohammed Cartoons”)
•    FreeDominion.ca (Canada’s answer to FreeRepublic.com)
•    Kate McMillan of SmallDeadAnimals.com
•    Jonathan Kay of the National Post daily newspaper and its in-house blog
•    and me, Kathy Shaidle of FiveFeetOfFury.com

Richard Warman used to work for the notorious Human Rights Commission, which runs the "kangaroo courts" who’ve charged Mark Steyn with "flagrant Islamophobia."

Richard Warman has brought almost half these cases single-handledly, getting websites he doesn’t like shut down, and making tens of thousands of tax free dollars in "compensation" out of web site owners who can’t afford to fight back or don’t even realize they can.

The province of British Columbia had to pass a special law to stop Richard Warman from suing libraries because they carried books he didn't approve of.

Richard Warman also wants to ban international websites he doesn’t like from being seen by Canadians.

The folks named in his new law suit are the very bloggers who have been most outspoken in their criticism of Warman’s methods.

She includes a paypal link to accept donations for their legal defense  (or is it defence in Canadian?)

Posted on April 9, 2008 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Subprime Loan Proposal, Plus Some Thoughts on Brand

I am just fine with prosecuting mortgage brokers for fraud  who deliberately misrepresented the payments and risks of the loan products they were selling.  However, to be fair, we must then also prosecute borrowers and home buyers who deliberately misrepresented their assets and income to lenders, actions that are equally fraudulent.

Or, we could just let the whole foreclosure and bankruptcy system sort everything out and let bygones by bygones. 

Interestingly, it seems to be advocates for borrowers who want to stir the whole fraud thing up and are reluctant to just let the system play itself out.  I find this odd, for a couple of reasons:

  • Fraud by lenders will be hard to prove, since they all are covered by written disclosures that I am sure reveal all the terms of the loan.  The government itself has designed a number of written disclosures lenders must use  [by the way, if reformers want to start somewhere, they might begin with these government disclosures.  My experience is that they are silly and uninformative, and were put together by someone in the government who does not actually understand loans].  Fraud by borrowers, on the other hand, should be dead-easy to discover - they signed their name to an income statement and list of assets and liabilities which are quite easy to check.
  • The current foreclosure and bankruptcy system is pretty fair to borrowers.  In particular, in the case of subprime loans where the borrower has little equity, foreclosure costs almost nothing in current dollars - all the loss is on the bank, with absolutely no come-backs on the borrower in the future.  The borrower must endure years of difficult credit and rebuilding trust in the system, but that is the kind of minimum cost we should expect a foreclosure or bankruptcy to carry.  We always seem to get worked up about foreclosures, because we have this picture of someone losing a home they have lived in 20 years and losing all their equity.   But in these subprime cases, where the buyer has been in the home only a few months and put in virtually no equity, I think our mental picture of the costs, at least to the borrower, of foreclosure are overblown.

As an aside, I am easily convinced that there were many mortgage brokers offering their customers atrociously bad deals and rates.  I can't imagine personally not shopping around for mortgage rates from multiple suppliers, but there are clearly people who want to walk into one guy's office and buy something from that first person.   And a number of these people chose to do business with firms that gave them really poor service (if service is defined as getting the best possible loan for the buyer).  Which gets me to the subject of branding.

I know that there are a lot of folks, particularly on the left, who hate large corporations and national brands, but to a large extent the uneven and unpredictable quality of mortgage brokers may be due to a lack of national players and national brands in mortgage brokering. 

Mortgage brokers, stock brokers, and real estate brokers are all licensed by the government.  By statist thinking, that should be enough to ensure quality.  But while stock brokers and real estate brokers can be independent, most of them have organized themselves into groups under a brand name (e.g. Merrill Lynch or Century 21).  Few such national brands, if any, exist in mortgage brokering.

These brands exist because they have proven themselves useful and valuable to consumers.  Presumably they communicate some form of quality or reliability or capability beyond the level that having a government license affords.  This is not necessarily a gaurantee of perfection, of course.  Certainly Merrill Lynch brokers, form time to time, have been accused of fraudulent behavior.  But Merrill has been very fast to act on these occasions, taking actions designed to save its brand from being tainted.  It is this incentive, plus the history such brands carry in the collective memory, that gives consumers extra confidence to use brokers with these brands rather than individual practitioners.

If I was a contrarian with a load of money and a knowledge of mortgage brokering, I might be thinking about building a Century 21 or Remax-type brand in mortgage brokering.

Posted on April 9, 2008 at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Keystone Issue of Global Warming

Cross-posted from Climate Skeptic.  I believe this to be an extremely important issue.  Catastrophic global warming forecasts are driven not by greenhouse gas theory, but by the theory that the Earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This post discusses these issues:

It is silly to argue whether CO2 in the atmosphere can cause global warming: It clearly does.  The issue is not "if" but "how much".  The warming from man's CO2 might be 8 degrees in a century, as Al Gore might argue, in which case man's CO2 would be incredibly disruptive.  Or it might cause just a few tenths of a degree of warming, which might be unnoticeable within the noise of natural climate variation.

Interestingly, the key to understanding this issue of the amount of warming does not actually lie in greenhouse gas theory.  Most scientists, skeptics and alarmists alike, peg the warming directly from CO2 at between 0.3 and 1.0 degrees Celsius for a doubling in CO2 levels  (this notion of how much temperatures would increase for a doubling of CO2 levels is called climate sensitivity).  If this greenhouse gas warming was the only phenomenon at work, we would expect man-made warming over the next century even using the most dire assumptions to be less than 1C, or about the same amount we have seen (non-catastrophically) over the last century.  Warming forecasts of this magnitude would not in any way, shape, or form justify the draconian economic impacts of many current government carbon reduction proposals.

The key, as I have written before (and here), lies not in greenhouse gas theory itself but in the theory that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This theory hypothesizes that small changes in temperature from greenhouse gas increases would be multiplied 3,4,5 times or more by positive feedback effects, from changes in atmospheric water vapor to changing surface albedo.

Let me emphasize again:  The catastrophe results not from greenhouse gas theory, but from the theory of extreme climactic positive feedback.  In a large sense, all the debate in the media is about the wrong thing!  When was the last time you saw the words "positive feedback" in a media article about climate?

Christopher Monckton has an absolutely dead-on post at Roger Pielke's blog about this feedback theory that I want to excerpt in depth.

This chart is a good place to start.  It shows the changes in the IPCC's estimate for climate sensitivity to CO2 and how it has changed over the course of the reports.  More importantly, he splits the forecast between the amount due directly to Co2, and the amount due to the multiplicative effect of positive feedback.  The green bar is the direct contribution of Co2, and the pink is the feedback.

Fig3

We can observe a couple of things.  First, the IPCC's estimate of the amount of warming due to CO2 directly via the greenhouse gas effect has actually been going down over time.  (Note that there are those, like Richard Lindzen, who suggest these numbers are still three times too high given that we have not observed a difference in surface and lower troposphere warming that greenhouse gas theory seems to predict).

Second, you will see that the IPCC's overall forecasts of climate sensitivity have been going up only because their estimates of positive feedback effects have gone way up.  The IPCC assumes that feedback effects multiply warming from CO2 by three.  And note that the IPCC's forecasts of feedback effects trail those of folks like James Hansen and Al Gore. 

So how confident are we in these feedback effects?  Well, it turns out we are not even sure of the sign!  As Monckton writes:

The feedback factor f accounts for at least two-thirds of all radiative forcing in IPCC (2007); yet it is not expressly quantified, and no “Level Of Scientific Understanding” is assigned either to f or to the two variables b and κ upon which it is dependent....

Indeed, in IPCC (2007) the stated values for the feedbacks that account for more than two-thirds of humankind’s imagined effect on global temperatures are taken from a single paper. The value of the coefficient z in the CO2 forcing equation likewise depends on only one paper. The implicit value of the crucial parameter κ depends upon only two papers, one of which had been written by a lead author of the chapter in question, and neither of which provides any theoretical or empirical justification for the IPCC’s chosen value. The notion that the IPCC has drawn on thousands of published, peer-reviewed papers to support its central estimates for the variables from which climate sensitivity is calculated is not supported by the evidence.

Given the importance of feedback to their forecasts, the treatment in the latest IPCC report of feedback borders on the criminal.  I have read the relevant sections and it is nearly impossible to find any kind of discussion of these issues.  A cynical mind might describe the thousands of pages of the IPCC report as the magician grabbing your attention with his left hand to hide what is in his right hand.  And what is being hidden is that ... there is nothing there!  Feedback is the pivotal point on which the whole discussion of drastic carbon abatement should turn and there is nothing there. 

Monckton goes further, to point out that hidden in the IPCC numbers lies an absurdity:

if the upper estimates of each of the climate-relevant feedbacks listed in IPCC (2007) are summed, an instability arises. The maxima are -

Water vapor 1.98, lapse rate -0.58, surface albedo 0.34, cloud albedo 1.07, CO2 0.57, total 3.38 W m-2 K-1.

The equation f = (1 - bκ)-1 becomes unstable as b → κ-1 = 3.2 W m-2 K-1. Yet, if each of the individual feedbacks imagined by the IPCC is increased to less than the IPCC’s maximum, an instability or “runaway greenhouse effect” is reached.

Yet it is reliably inferred from palaeoclimatological data that no “runaway greenhouse effect” has occurred in the half billion years since the Cambrian era, when atmospheric CO2 concentration peaked at almost 20 times today’s value

Positive feedback can be weird and unstable.  If there is enough of it, processes tend to run away (e.g. nuclear fission), which is what Monckton is arguing that some of the IPCC assumptions lead to.  Even when feedback is less positive, it still can cause processes to fluctuate wildly.  In fact, it is fairly unusual for long-term stable processes like climate to be dominated by positive feedback.  Most scientists, when then meet a new process, would probably assume negative feedback until proven otherwise.  This is a particular issue in climate, where folks like Michael Mann have gone out of their way to argue that the world temperature history over the last 1000 years before man began burning fossil fuels is incredibly stable and unchanging.  If so, how can this be consistent with strong positive feedback?

Anyway, there is a lot more numerical detail in Monckton's post if you want to dig into the equations.

I would add one thing to his analysis:  If you look at the last 100 years of history, the change in temperature given the observed change in CO2 levels comes no where close to a climate sensitivity of 3 or more, even when you assign all historical warming to CO2 rather than other effects like the sun.  In fact, as I showed in this analysis, climate sensitivity appears to be 1.2 when one assigns all past warming to CO2, and something well less than that if one accepts the sun and other effects also play a role.  These historical analyses would point to feedback that is either zero or negative rather than positive, more in line with what one would expect from complex natural systems.

You can see a discussion of many of these topics in the video below:

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Will Mexico Follow Chavez?

As in Venezuela, the Mexican government is facing the problem of declining oil production in a state whose national government relies on oil revenues for much of its operating funds.  And, like Venezuela, this is a problem that is self-imposed. 

The ignorance with which most of the media writes about oil reserves is staggering.  Most writers fall in the trap of talking about oil reserves as if they are big pools underground that will eventually be sucked dry and have a fixed recoverable size.  The reality is that the amount of oil that can be pumped from any field depends greatly on how much capital investment one puts into the field.  In the short term, wells even in perfectly viable fields will start to fall off in production unless they are reworked every so often.  Longer term, addition of pumps, water/steam/CO2 injection, drilling deeper, etc. all can greatly extend the life of fields.  There are fields in Texas just as old as those in Mexico which continue to be reinvigorated by investment.  And we continue to find new fields in the US through exploration investment, and would find more if the government did not restrict the most promising areas from exploration.  (by the way, this is why much of the peak oil analysis is BS)

The problem, then, is not that Mexican oil reservoirs are going dry but that the amount of investment required to keep them producing is rising as they age (the converse of the law of diminishing returns is the law of increasing capital investment requirement).  And the Mexican government, like that in Venezuela, is committed to siphoning off oil revenues for short term political spending and to provide gas at below-market pricing rather than reinvest the money in the fields.  In this context, the Mexican government is seeking foreign investment to help bail them out of this problem, while the socialist elements want to keep foreign corporations out.

For once, I agree with the socialists.  I see no reason why US oil companies should venture back into a country that still celebrates as a holiday the day in 1938 when the Mexican government stole the assets of US oil companies.

Postscript: 
special recognition to the AZ Republic writer who gratuitously tried to justify nationalization of assets owned by US citizens by claiming that the US oil companies essentially asked for it by "evading Mexican taxes and paying meager salaries."  The entire history of the third world oil industry can be written as follows:
1.  US companies invest huge amounts of capital and know-how to build oil industry
2.  Once things are producing, local government steals it all
3.  Oil fields go into extended decline due to short-term focused and incompetent government management
4.  US companies invited back int to invest huge amounts of know-how and capital
5. repeat

Update: Here is a great example of why peak oil analysis is probably flawed -- such analysis assumes that the size of reserves are static.  But in fact they are not.  They can vary greatly with the price of oil, because the size of the recoverable reserves, as discussed above, depends on how much one is willing to invest in recovering them and that depends on price.

In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this 200,000 square mile reserve that was initially discovered in 1951. The USGS did an initial study back in 1999 that estimated 400 billion recoverable barrels were present but with prices bottoming out at $10 a barrel back then the report was dismissed because of the higher cost of horizontal drilling techniques that would be needed, estimated at $20-$40 a barrel.

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

But We Didn't Mean For Those Laws to Apply to Us

Today's emails seem to be following the theme of government exempting itself from its own regulations.

In the first story, many California government employees (and their families!) are issued with license plates that effectively exempt them from traffic law violations.

In the second story, the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan sets out on a voyage of discovery in which they find out that minimum wages can drastically increase costs and that different people have different needs.  And so, they exempt themselves from the law.  I am particularly sensitive to this story because the reason the city claims it is unfair to apply the law to them exactly matches my business:

After several months of negotiation, Ann Arbor elected officials Monday agreed to waive the city's "living wage'' law for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

What's been at issue is the application of the wage law to the festival's temporary workers. Under the living-wage law, groups that have contracts of $10,000 or more with the city must pay above-minimum wages. That wage level is now around $12 an hour for employees who don't receive health benefits.

Because the increased wages would significantly add to the costs of putting on the festival

Wow, who would have thought that artificially setting wage rates above the market clearing price would increase costs?  But to continue:

City Council Member Chris Easthope, who's promoted the change, argues that the festival's seasonal employees - almost all students - are not the kind of workers the wage law was meant to protect.

"This isn't an attempt to drop people below living wage levels, but to recognize there are some short-term events that struggle. I don't think that, when it was adopted, the living wage was meant to have that effect on a one-month event.''

Let's see.  I hire temporary seasonal workers in Michigan for about three months of the year.  And thought they are not students, most are retired people in their seventies who are also likely "not the kind of workers the wage law was meant to protect."  In fact, many of my workers are disabled and work slower, so I probably have a better argument than the city.  So where is my exemption? 

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 12:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Global Warming / Biofuel Tragedy

Time, not always my favorite publication, hit on a couple of points I have made recently in an article called the Clean Energy Scam.  This article has been around for a few weeks but I am only just now getting to it.

First, I made the point just the other day that inordinate focus on global warming is crowding out other more important environmental issues, sucking the oxygen out of causes like private land trusts that are attempting to preserve unique areas.  As Time says:

The Amazon was the chic eco-cause of the 1990s, revered as an incomparable storehouse of biodiversity. It's been overshadowed lately by global warming

Much has been made of Brazil's efforts to reduce imported oil.  Too much credit has been given to ethanol -- most of Brazil's independence came from a number of domestic oil developments.  However, Brazil has been a leading promoter of ethanol through government policy, and this focus on ethanol has had a lot to do with deforestation in the Amazon, as rising crop prices due to biofuel mandates have spurred a rush to clear new land.  Now, US and European ethanol policies are just accelerating this trend:

This land rush is being accelerated by an unlikely source: biofuels. An explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming rate.

it never made any sense that a fuel that requires more energy to produce than it provides could ever be "green," but only now are the politically correct forces accepting what I and others have been saying for years:

But several new studies show the biofuel boom is doing exactly the opposite of what its proponents intended: it's dramatically accelerating global warming, imperiling the planet in the name of saving it. Corn ethanol, always environmentally suspect, turns out to be environmentally disastrous. Even cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass, which has been promoted by eco-activists and eco-investors as well as by President Bush as the fuel of the future, looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.

The rest of the article is quite good.  I don't like to criticize where other people choose to spend their charitable dollars, but it is just amazing to me that environmentally-concerned people could give $300 million to Al Gore just to squander on advertising.  (By the way, Al Gore claims to have not only invented the Internet, but to have "saved" corn ethanol from government defunding).  I think about how much $300 million could have achieve in private land trusts trying to buy up and preserve the Amazon, and I could cry.  But all I can do is plug along and give what I can.  I donate to both the Nature Conservancy and World Land Trust.

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Zimbabwe Puts Gippers in Circulation

Zimbabwe introduces a new 50,000,000 bank note.  And if you do not understand the post title, shame on you.  Go read this book immediately.

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 08:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

And the Winner Is...

Jeff Charleston, who went nearly wire to wire to win.  Here is the top ten, which yours truly finally managed to crack for the first time.  I picked the fewest correct games, by far, of anyone in the top 10 but got a lot of upset correct and thus scored a bunch of bonus points.  Memphis fans have to be squirming today.  I almost didn't watch the last 2 minutes of the game -- Memphis seemed to have it totally in hand.

BracketRankPointsCorrect GamesUpset Risk %Tiebreaker Total Points (diff)Possible Games
Jeff Charleston 1 127 46 16.7 157 (14) 46
Bennett Johnsen 2 126 47 9.5 150 (7) 47
Keith Ehlers 3 115 44 16.7 188 (45) 44
Kevin Clary #2 4 115 42 13.8 176 (33) 42
Warren Meyer #2 5 115 41 21.4 125 (18) 41
Kelly McLean 6 114 47 6.0 135 (8) 47
Kevin Clary 7 113 42 13.7 174 (31) 42
Aj Dote 8 112 42 2.5 145 (2) 42
Steve Jones 9 109 45 11.4 157 (14) 45
Tom Kirkendall 10 108 45 5.2 142 (1) 45

The whole thing here.

Congrats to Jeff, and he can send me an email if he would like a free copy of either of my books.  And no, Bennett doesn't win 2 copies for being in second. 

Posted on April 8, 2008 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thanks, Government

The US Government requires that garage door openers include an electric eye system that prevents the door from closing if the beam is broken.  Unfortunately, given dirty garages, it is really easy for this beam to be blocked by dust and such.  Two years ago, the beam system caused my door to go back up without my knowledge (I just hit the button and went inside) and as a result our garage was robbed that night. 

This time of year is especially frustrating for us.  My garage faces south, so the low sun this time of year overwhelms the electric eye system in most garage doors and causes them to refuse to close.  It is hugely frustrating, and a real security issue.  I glued tubes around each eye to try to shade the sun, but it is still working erratically.  I spent much of last weekend trying to figure out how to bypass the system electrically but I could not make it work.  Finally, I have had enough.  I have spent ten times the cost of the garage door opener in stolen goods and my personal time fighting this stupid device.  Tonight I am going to remove the two eyes and just mount them facing each other on a wall so I don't have to worry about them any more.  Unless someone can come up with a better solution. 

In my mind this is a classic example of government technocracy -- someone decided for us that we should value a minuscule increase in safety over a substantial reduction in security.

Posted on April 7, 2008 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Presidents and the Economy

There is very little that can make me go non-linear faster than when someone attributes economic growth to a politician, e.g. Reagan's economy or Clinton's economy.  So this post from Kevin Drum on the correlation between economic growth and the flavor of president in the Oval Office is just the kind of thing to make me lose it.  And not because I really care whether Team Coke or Team Pepsi looks better.

Larry Bartels says that Democratic presidents produce higher economic growth than Republican presidents, and that the differences in average growth rates for middle-class and poor families (but not affluent families, apparently, who do well under both parties) are statistically significant by conventional social-scientific standards.

OK, I have seen the analysis done different ways and accept the statistical conclusion.  You used to be able to get a really tight correlation between Washington Redskin football team performance and presidential election outcomes (via Snopes):

Sometimes one natural phenomenon supposedly forecasts another, as in the belief that a groundhog's seeing his shadow on February 2 portends another six weeks of winter. In other instances the linkage is between affairs of mankind, as in the superstition that the winner of football's Super Bowl augurs that year's stock market performance (or vice-versa).

A recent item of this ilk maintains that the results of the last game played at home by the NFL's Washington Redskins (a football team based in the national capital, Washington, D.C.) before the U.S. presidential elections has accurately foretold the winner of the last fifteen of those political contests, going back to 1944. If the Redskins win their last home game before the election, the party that occupies the White House continues to hold it; if the Redskins lose that last home game, the challenging party's candidate unseats the incumbent president. While we don't presume there is anything more than a random correlation between these factors, it is the case that the pattern held true even longer than claimed, stretching back over seventeen presidential elections since 1936

What gets me is not the existence of a correlation, but the explanation:

In recent decades taxes and transfers have probably been more important. Social spending. Business regulation or lack thereof. And don't forget the minimum wage. Over the past 60 years, the real value of the minimum wage has increased by 16 cents per year under Democratic presidents and declined by 6 cents per year under Republican presidents; that's a 3% difference in average income growth for minimum wage workers, with ramifications for many more workers higher up the wage scale. So, while I don't pretend to understand all the ways in which presidents' policy choices shape the income distribution, I see little reason to doubt that the effects are real and substantial.

I have three thoughts, of which the third is what really gets me:

  • It is funny that no one considers that this correlation may work in reverse.  Everyone assumes government drives short-term economic performance.  What if, to some extent, short-term economic performance drives changes in government?  If one assumes that, even without the public spirited and Herculean efforts of our presidents, economies are naturally cyclical, then why try to explain cycles on politics when we know cycles are going to exist anyway.  Why wouldn't a perfectly valid alternate explanation be that one political party tends to be elected if the economy is in one part of the cycle and the other gets elected if the economy is in another place?
  • The political brand names "Republican" and "Democrat" shift in meaning over time vis a vis economic policy recommendations, and individual presidents can diverge quite a ways from their party center line.  One can easily argue that Nixon was the most interventionist and economically ignorant president (think:  wage and price controls), despite the "Republican" brand name.  John Kennedy was more laissez faire than most Republicans are today.   Regulation, as measured by pages added to Federal Register, increased at a far faster pace under George Bush (I) than Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton passed free market legislation, including NAFTA, that John McCain shys away from today, while George Bush passed an expansion of Medicare that Bill Clinton did not consider.  Oh, and when we discuss regulation and such, Congress sortof matter too.
  • The author's argument boils down to "the more governors and useless loads we add to an engine, the more strongly the engine will run."  It is just absurd.  None of these guys have the first clue what it takes to run a business day to day, nor how much of a business owner's time and effort is aimed not at service customers better, and not at being more productive, and not at making employees happier or better trainined, but at responding to the latest mass of government regulation, paperwork, liscensing, taxes, and other total crap.  Here is just one example I wrote up about what sits on my desk.

To this last point, take just two things on my desk this morning.  The first is a pile of tax returns and some licensing paperwork.  Last year, our company's total tax bill was not that large.  But the problem is that the government takes the taxes in so many bites, and every bite costs time on our part learning the process and filling out paperwork.  For example, if I take all the taxes and licensing fees we pay to federal, local, and state governments, and multiply times the number of months or quarters each requires a report, I get a number of over 400.  Four hundred individual bites, each with its own paperwork and overhead.

The other problem sitting on my desk is a snack bar I inherited on a lease in California at Lake Piru.  The snack bar is a dump.  It is designed wrong, it is set up to cook the wrong kinds of foods, and uses space in the building very inefficiently.  I want to lay the whole thing out differently, as a win-win for everyone.  We could sell more with fewer workers.  The customers would get more selection, including much healthier choices.  The operation would be safer, because we would eliminate most of the heavy cooking  (e.g. deep fat fryers).  And it would be cleaner, with less wastewater and cleaner wastewater because there would be less grease and oil.

Unfortunately, it is very clear that Ventura County, California is not going to allow me to make these changes, at least at any cost I can afford.  First, apparently I need to build a new wastewater treatment plant for the snack bar!  But I am reducing the waste water load, I argue.  Does not matter.  New code requires a plant.  So because of this environmental code, I am pushed to continue the current operation which is environmentally worse than my proposed alternative.  We have the exact same problem on fire suppression.  But I am removing the ovens and most of the cooking equipment!  It's safer!  Doesn't matter, if I make any change at all, I have to install a new fire suppression system.  And on and on.  this is the true face of government regulation.  We face this kind of thing ten times a day.   

Anyway, I could go on and on about this stuff, but that is what the blog is about, so I will refer you to my past (and future) posts.

Posted on April 7, 2008 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

If They Could Do Math, They Wouldn't Have Been Journalism Majors

Further proof that no one in the media is capable of even the simplest reality-checks when it comes to publishing numbers they get from activist press releases.  This whole concept below is a howler (the idea is that global warming causes volcanoes) but it is the last paragraph that really caught my eye:

So much ice in Iceland has melted in the past century that the pressure on the land beneath has lessened, which allows more of the rock deep in the ground to turn to magma. Until the ice melted, the pressure was so intense that the rock remained solid.

Carolina Pagli, of the University of Leeds, led research which calculated that over the past century the production of magma had increased by 10 per cent.

The research team, reporting their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said an extra 1.4 cu km of magma has been created under the Vatnajökull ice-cap in the past 100 years.

Since 1890 the ice-cap has lost 10 per cent of its mass, which has allowed the land to rise by up to 25m (82ft) a year. The volume lost between 1890 and 2003 is estimated at 435 cu km.

Leaving aside cause and effect (e.g. does ice cap melting cause more hot stuff in the ground or does more hot stuff in the ground melt ice), consider the statement that the ground has risen under the ice cap by 82 feet per year for 118 years.  This gives us a rise in the land of 9,676 feet after just 10% of the ice mass has supposedly melted.  Note that this is an enormous, totally non-sensical value.  It implies that a full melting of the ice might increase the land height by 10x this amount, or nearly 100,000 feet  (airplanes stay away!!)  As another check, 9,676 is more than the entire depth of the Iceland ice sheet (it is about the same as what scientists think the Greenland ice sheet depth is).  Another way of looking at this is this is about 1/8-inch land surface rise PER HOUR for the last century. 

I am not sure how any writer or editor on the planet could look at "82 feet a year for 118 years" and not smell a rat.

Posted on April 6, 2008 at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Math Geek Humor

In his analysis of his hockey stick temperature reconstruction, Michel Mann claimed that his results were robust to changes in certain weighting factors.  Humorously, Steven McIntyre demonstrates that it is robust because when you do the math, the weighting factors actually cancel out of  all the equations.  In effect, Mann was saying that y =3x/x  gives the answer "3" robustly for all values of x (well, except zero).  True, but scientifically meaningless.  But worrisome when a scientist has to run numerous simulations to discover the fact.  I presume he thought his weighting factors were actually doing something in his model.

Reason #4163 to be really, really confident in those climate models these guys are building.

Posted on April 6, 2008 at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Bracket Challenge Update

With just three games to go in the tournament, here are the standings:

3 games remainingMust wins for best finish
Current
rank

(score)
Player
(125 total)
Best
finish

(chance)
Worst
finish

(chance)
Final FewChampion
1 (109) Jeff Charleston 1 (25%) 13 (12.5%) Kansas Kansas
2 (108) Ron Gallagher 1 (12.5%) 11 (12.5%) UNC UCLA UCLA
3 (107) Kevin Clary #2 1 (12.5%) 18 (25%) Kansas UCLA UCLA
4 (104) Craig 1 (12.5%) 21 (25%) UNC Memphs UNC
5 (104) Jeff Charleston #2 1 (12.5%) 19 (12.5%) UNC UCLA UNC
6 (103) Jeffrey Peterson 2 (12.5%) 21 (12.5%) UNC UCLA UNC
7 (102) Stan Brown 13 (25%) 32 (12.5%) Kansas UCLA
8 (101) briain's 2 (12.5%) 25 (12.5%) UNC UCLA UCLA
9 (100) Bennett Johnsen 2 (12.5%) 34 (12.5%) Kansas Memphs Kansas
10 (100) Tom Kirkendall 1 (12.5%) 29 (12.5%) UNC Memphs Memphs
11 (100) Wade Condict #2 11 (12.5%) 35 (12.5%) Kansas Memphs Memphs
12 (100) Nathan Lambert 3 (12.5%) 35 (12.5%) Kansas UCLA UCLA
13 (99) Andy Nemenoff 4 (12.5%) 33 (12.5%) UNC Memphs UNC
14 (99) Keith Ehlers 1 (12.5%) 39 (12.5%) Kansas Memphs Memphs
15 (97) Warren Meyer #2 5 (12.5%) 47 (12.5%) Kansas Memphs Kansas

I had show the top 15, of course, just to sneak myself in.  In fact, there are still 6 people who can win.  If you think of the three games yielding 8 possible game outcomes,  Jeff Charleston wins on three of those outcomes, and Ron Gallagher, Kevin Clary, Craig, Tom Kirkendall and Keith Ehlers each will win if one specific combination comes up.

Posted on April 4, 2008 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Freedom of Association

It is not at all uncommon that voters support restrictions on employers that they would never accept on themselves.  For example, the government has made it pretty clear that normal rights to freedom of association don't really exist in the workplace -- numerous restrictions exist on who I can and cannot hire (or at least not-hire) in my business.

So it will be interesting when the government steps in and tells folks that a very basic freedom of association -- say, the ability to choose who one wants to share an apartment with -- does not really exist.

Posted on April 4, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Biofuel Update: They Still Suck

I feel like I have said what needs to be said on biofuels.  Subsidizing and mandating biofuels with current technologies is terrible fiscal policy, bad environmental policy, ridiculous energy policy, and, perhaps most important, disastrous for the world's poor.

In case you missed all these arguments, Q&O has a pretty comprehensive post here.

Posted on April 4, 2008 at 07:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Selection Bias

I thought it was kind of interesting that upon reading this McKinsey & Co study (currently the top one in the list) on education, Kevin Drum and a number of other left 'o center blogs pulled out this one chart to highlight.  It shows starting teacher pay  (i.e. out of college) as a percent of the economy's average)

Blog_mckinsey_teacher_starting_pay

The author's of the study argue that the countries higher on this list also have better student results.  Now, I will confess that this is a pretty interesting finding in the study -- that starting teacher pay is more important than teacher pay in later years, because the key is to attract talented people right out of college away from other professions.  Interesting. 

But here is the quite fascinating selection bias by the lefty blogs:  I have read the whole report, and this is absolutely the only chart in the whole study that in any way, shape, or form might be interpreted as a call for higher government education spending.  Even more interesting is what these bloggers left out.  This is the other half of the starting teacher pay analysis Drum et. al. chose note to include, and makes clear that even this chart is not a call for more total spending:

South Korea and Singapore employ fewer teachers than other systems; in effect, this ensures that they can spend more money on each teacher at an equivalent funding level.  Both countries recognize that while class size has relatively little impact on the quality of student outcomes (see above), teacher quality does.  South Korea's student-to-teacher ration is 30:1, compared to an OECD average of 17.1, enabling it in effect to double teacher salaries while maintaining the same overall funding level as other OECD countries....

Singapore has pursued a similar strategy but has also front-loaded compensation.  THis combination allows it to spend less on primary education than almost any other OECD and yet still be able to attract strong candidates into the teaching profession.  In addition, because Singapore and South Korea need fewer teachers,  they are also in a position to be more selective about who becomes a teacher.  This, in turn, increases the status of teaching, making the profession even more attractive.

Whoops!  Don't want our friends at the NEA to see that!  Most of the study turns on McKinsey's finding that teacher quality drives student results, way ahead of any other factor, from class size to socioeconomic background:

Teacherquality

Well, now the NEA might be getting really nervous.  Something like this might cause parents to do something rash, like demand that low-performing teachers get fired.  Gasp.

Anyway, to get back to the cherry-picking and selection bias issue, the study is pretty clear that it thinks that "more spending" is a failed strategy for improving public education
Education1

If school choice is off the table, then I would be very supportive of a program to increase starting teacher pay, funded by larger class sizes and substantial reductions in useless administrators and assistant principals.  Anyway, it is kind of an interesting study, though you may find the pdf file format really irritating to try to read.  Lots of funny formatting. 

Posted on April 3, 2008 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Fighting the Competition, One Legislature at a Time

Thanks to an email from a reader, comes this bizarre but all-too-common tale of an industry group supporting licensing to protect itself from competition:

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design, completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing exam. And by the way, it is criminally misleading for people who practice interior design to use that term without government permission.

You might stare at them incredulously for a moment, then look down at your calendar and say, "Oh, I get it -- April Fool!" Right? Wrong.

These folks represent the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), an industry group whose members have waged a 30-year, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois, where ASID and its local affiliates have peddled their snake-oil mantra that "Every decision an interior designer makes affects life safety and quality of life."

Legislative analysis by a half-dozen states that rebuffed ASID's attempts to cartelize interior design -- including Colorado, Washington and South Carolina -- has failed to support ASID's claim that the location of your couch or the color of your bedroom walls is literally a matter of life and death. As the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies put it, there is "no evidence of physical or financial harm being caused to . . . consumers by the unregulated practice of interior designers."

I am not sure this even needs comment.  I traditionally end my posts on licensing with this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Many other posts in the same vein here

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Blaming A Collective Bargaining Issue on the Oil Companies

Everyone wants to blame their industry's poor economics on banks or the oil companies: (via a reader)

Truckers angry about the high price of fuel staged a rolling protest on Tuesday, using their big rigs to slow traffic to a crawl on the New Jersey Turnpike.

The protest was part of a loosely organized nationwide effort by independent truckers to draw attention to the high prices they face....

"The gas prices are too high," said one of them, Lamont Newberne, a 34-year-old trucker from Wilmington, N.C. "We don't make enough money to pay our bills and take care of our family."

Newberne said a typical run carrying produce from Lakeland, Fla., to the Hunt's Point Market in The Bronx, N.Y., had cost $600 to $700 a year ago. It now runs him $1,000...

"The oil company is the boss, what are we going to be able to do about it?" said Rotenbarger, who was at a truck stop at Baldwin, Fla., about 20 miles west of Jacksonville. "The whole world economy is going to be controlled by the oil companies. There's nothing we can do about it."

Well, we talked the other day about how oil industry profits, even at this historic high, amount to twenty cents of current gas and diesel prices.  But lets take a more direct comparison.  I looked at Google finance for ExxonMobil and Knight Transportation (a large trucker based here in Phoenix).  If you sum up sales and net income for 2006 and 2007, ExxonMobil earned 10.2% of sales.  During the same period, the trucker earned 9.9% of sales.  This is a statistical dead heat.  So it is kind of hard to say that trucking companies are suffering at the hand of oil companies when they earn the same profit margins.

So what might be the problem?  The article gives a big fat hint that it might not actually be an oil company problem:

Jimmy Lowry, 51, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and others said it costs about $1 a mile to drive one of the big rigs, although some companies are offering as little as 87 cents a mile. Diesel cost $4.03 a gallon at the Jacksonville-area truck stop.

I would certainly be willing to believe that trucking companies are paying independent drivers a price per mile that hasn't kept up with fuel costs.   In particular, it may be that the independent truckers have the same problem that Bear Stearns had, ie their revenues are tied into long term contracts while their costs float short term.  I'd certainly be bargaining for either higher mileage rates or a new rate structure with a fuel surcharge.

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Progressives Hate The Poor

Yeah, I know they seem to care so much, but nearly every policy they actively advocate turns out to be a disaster for the poor.  Here is a great example:

In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. “Simply because my people are hungry,” President Levy Mwanawasa later said, “is no justification to give them poison.”

The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn produced—and consumed—comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed.

This is simply awful, and is driven by progressive politics in Europe that abhor GM food, despite reams of scientific evidence and years of experience that it has no demonstrable health effect.  (It is particularly ironic that GM corn should be the target, since corn as we know it is a man-made genetically modified food, albeit by the slow process of cross-breeding.  The very existence of corn is one of the great triumphs of pre-Columbian agriculture.)

A key element of progressive politics is to apply western middle class perspectives to Third World problems.  In this case, Europeans who are wealthy and well-fed have time and capacity to worry about problems at the margin, such as "might GM corn somehow have a negative health effect on one in a million people?"  I believe this concern is absurd even at the margin in western society, but it becomes criminally insane when applied to countries beset with abject poverty and starvation.  So we would rather let a million people starve than have one person face some hypothetical health risk?

This same approach can be seen in a myriad of other instances.  For example, progressive wish to prevent Nike from building factories in the Third World that hire locals for fifty cents a day.  Again, the middle class western perspective:  I would never take a job that paid $5 a day for ten hours of labor, so they should not either.  But this is in countries where more than half of the population makes less than $1 a day performing subsistence farming for perhaps 12-14 hours a day, and even then risk starvation when the crop fails.  The Nike factory represents incredible salvation for many.  Do we all hope they will do even better economically in the future?  Sure, but you can't step from unskilled subsistence farming for a dollar a day to middle manager at GE all in one step.

And then there is climate.  The climate change hysteria, and the associated calls for reductions 80% or higher in CO2 output, is the greatest threat to the world's poor that has existed since the bubonic plague.  And yes, I mean the hysteria, not climate change itself.  Because if the world gets warmer because of man's CO2  (an iffy proposition), the poor might or might not be worse off.  After all, it was during warm periods of the past that the poor thrived, such as the population boom in Europe during the Medieval warm period.  But if the world's governments agree to shut down fossil fuel production and reduce the size of economies, over a billion people who are set to emerge from poverty over the next few decades will instead be doomed to remain poor.  Progressive environmentalists are not even subtle about what they want -- they are seeking a poorer, lower-tech worldThey are selling poverty.

Brendan O'Neil writes in this vein:

In these various scandalous schemes, we can glimpse the iron fist that lurks within environmentalism’s green velvet glove. ‘Cutting back carbon emissions’ is the goal to which virtually every Western politician, celebrity and youthful activist has committed himself. Yet for the poorest people around the world, ‘reducing carbon output’ means saying no to machinery and instead getting your family to do hard physical labour, or it involves collecting cow dung and burning it in an eco-stove in order to keep yourself warm.... Carbon-offsetting companies have encouraged Kenyans to use dung-powered generators and Indians to replace kerosene lamps with solar-powered lamps, while carbon-offsetting tree-planting projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda have reportedly disrupted local communities’ water supplies, led to the eviction of thousands of villagers from their land, and cheated local people of their promised income for the upkeep of these Western conscience-salving trees....

Carbon offsetting is not some cowboy activity, or an aberration, or a distraction from ‘true environmentalist goals’ - rather it expresses the very essence of environmentalism. In its project of transforming vast swathes of the developing world into guilt-massaging zones for comfortable Westerners, where trees are planted or farmers’ work is made tougher and more time-consuming in order to offset the activities of Americans and Europeans, carbon offsetting perfectly captures both the narcissistic and anti-development underpinnings of the politics of environmentalism. Where traditional imperialism conquered poor nations in order to exploit their labour and resources, today’s global environmentalist consensus is increasingly using the Third World as a place in which to work out the West’s moral hang-ups....

Carbon-offsetting also shines a light on the dangerously anti-development sentiment in environmentalism....

In the near term, countries are already using global warming as an excuse for protectionism, and in particular are cutting off imports from poorer countries that are trying to make some economic progress:

There is little that angers me more than disingenuous attempts to employ ‘global warming’ as an argument against trade, especially against trade from the developing world. More often than not, blatant self-interest - that is, old-fashioned protectionism by another name -  is being masked beneath self-righteous, middle-class gobbledygook.               
               
Such a case is brilliantly exposed today by Dominic Lawson writing in The Independent [‘Food miles are just a form of protectionism. Middle-class neurosis is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture’ (April 1)]:
               
“Was Prince Charles’ chum Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, expecting the Kenyan High Commissioner to fall to his knees in gratitude? It rather sounded like it yesterday morning, when the two of them met in a BBC radio studio.
               
They were there to discuss the Soil Association’s proposals to discriminate against the ‘organic food’ which is air freighted into this country, mostly from East Africa. ‘One option was to ban it altogether,’ declared Mr Holden, but instead he and his colleagues had decided that such food would only be banned if it was ‘not produced ethically’ - whatever that means....

“On the whole it is a ‘lifestyle choice’ limited to middle-class mothers in the South-east of England who are neurotic enough to believe the insinuations of the Soil Association that little Henry and Caroline are more likely to get cancer if mummy doesn’t buy organic (at twice the price).    
Now another largely middle-class neurosis - we are all doomed unless everybody stops flying! - is being exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture which could never feed this country, still less the world. It is, at best, an exercise in self-delusion. At worst, it is a way of using food as the instrument of a deliberate policy of racial discrimination.”

Maxed Out Mamma has more on the global warming excuse for protectionism:

I am genuinely concerned that environmental concerns are being used as a proxy for protectionist economic legislation and may have severe consequences. I would like to discuss this article from a Canadian source about carbon taxation:

Imposing carbon tariffs on emerging economies with low manufacturing costs and high greenhouse gas emissions could drive some manufacturers back to Western countries, according to two economists.

Jeff Rubin, chief strategist and economist at CIBC World Markets, thinks such tariffs could emerge quickly. Countries in Europe are already becoming publicly intolerant of emissions elsewhere and the next president of the United States is expected to institute a cap on greenhouse gas emissions alongside the trading of carbon credits.

...Europe is in an extremely protectionist mood, and I believe one of the reasons for the non-scientifically based focus on carbon is that it serves as a justification for tariffs. If the next president does institute carbon tariffs, the result will have a real impact on world trade.

I believe that many politicians are being deeply dishonest about their "environmental" concerns. I also believe that instituting a carbon tariff will cause Asian growth to slow remarkably and further destabilize the world economy. The rise in food prices is very dangerous because it has an impact on the ability of emerging market countries to support consumption increases necessary to rebalance trade. If you add to the situation by doing something like this, you could recreate the conditions which caused the Great Depression.

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

It's Rick Astley's World, And We Are Just Living In It

YouTube seems to be RickRolling visitors, no matter what video one requests when you click on one of the featured videos.  Pretty funny.  Happy April Fools Day.

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)