Saturday, April 30, 2011

Prevention of "Breach of the Peace"

The UK police got creative before the the William & Kate marriage. In this video an anthropology professor and two of his fellow demonstrators were arrested a day before the marriage because the police would "foresee" that they would breach the peace on the day of the marriage...

The US has a history of arresting people to "prevent" a breach of the peace. Here is a bit from a 1988 Supreme Court case, Texas v. Johnson. The text is taken from here:
MS. DREW: ...Throughout the course of the appellate history in this case Texas has advanced two compelling state interests. One is the preservation of the flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity. The second the preservation of a breach of the peace.
QUESTION: Prevention of breach of the peace?
MS. DREW: Yes, Your Honor, prevention as opposed to punishment for a breach of the peace.


MS. DREW: ... I’d like to turn very briefly, if I may, to the breach of the peace interest. We do feel that preventing a breach of the peace is a legitimate state interest. And, indeed, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that preventing a breach of the peace is a legitimate state interest.
Again, the Texas legislative has made a judgment in this area that public desecration is likely to lead to violence that it can lead to violence. And I think the record in this case is abundantly clear that it is merely fortuitous, it is our good luck that a breach of the peace did not occur as a result of this particular flag desecration.
The appropriate test to be utilized in this area has not been decided by this court.
There are two lines of cases. One is that public desecration of a flag is inherently inflammatory. Another is that immanence must be shown. And I believe that this record is very clear that Texas could regulate under either theory.
And, again, the goal is a prevention of a breach of the peace, not a punishment for a breach of the peace. And in analyzing this particular statute, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals utilized a much higher standard than any court has ever used before.
They went to an actual breach of the peace and they said well, there was no actual breach of the peace. That’s true. Individuals who were seriously offended by this conduct were not moved to violence. If they were, they exercised restraint.
But I don’t believe that that is dispositive of the state’s interest and because its interest is different, the standard is different. And I believe that the Court of Criminal Appeals suggestions in this regard are a bit too narrow; that is you have to show an actual breach of the peace, your purpose in a flag desecration statute is obviated. Some other statute would serve that interest, but not a flag desecration standard because its purpose is preventing.
If you look through the argumentation there is no questioning of the right to exercise "prevention" of a breach of the peace. I find this odd. What if somebody grabbed you off the steet and locked you up because they could "foresee" that in five years time you would become angry and drive your car into a public building injuring many and killing some people. Under the above interpretation of the law, that would be "grounds" for arrest. And surprisingly the above has no argument about how the police can "foresee" that this act would in fact lead to a breach of the peace. It is simply assumed that burning a US flag in the US would cause some "breach of the peace".

I'm surprised because I find it hard to make conclusions like this about the future. I think everybody would agree that it would be outrageous to arrest somebody for a "perceived" breech of the peace that is expected to happen five years in the future. In the above video the police are able to look into the future and tell that three people who belong to a street theatre group were going to create a "breach of the peace".

Isn't it wonderful that the state no longer employs ordinary police who enforce the law. Now the police have been significantly enhanced by clarvoyants and seers who can delve into the future and spot crime before it happens so that crimes may be stopped in their tracks. Yet another leap forward into the glories of the "future state" with all the "future benefits" of removing "future criminals" before the commit the crime. How elegant.

Learn Religion and Science by Song!

Here's a theory of everything in the first three minutes... or less!

Learn Philosophy by Watching Science Fiction Movies

Modern communications and the ever more thoughtful thrust of popular themes in science fiction movies mean that you can learn all you ever wanted to know about philosophy from watching this derivative of Star Wars...

I find the superficial discrepancies between the French dialog and the English subtitles part of the charm of this exercise in philosophy.

This is a student's exercise in existentialism and post-modernism where you discover that desconstructing the "subtext" of the dialog exercises your ability to find philosophical depths beyond the merely suggestive readings provided by the literal subtext. Philosophy frees the mind to look behind these appearances to find layers of reality each with their own self reference and abundant existential possibilities.

The best discussion of post-post-modernism was captured by Alan Sokal in his brilliantly deceptive recreation of post-modernist techniques in his essay "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".

I find that if you replace the pathetically derivative subtext of the above video by liberal reading from Sokal's article, you can quickly realize the profound essence of modern philosophy as it relates to the epistemic insecurity of the modern professoriate and the narrative strictures of academic philosophizing.

Forty years after the fact, I still look back lovingly to my experience reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Heideggar's Being and Time. The two great pillars of modern philosophy's plunge into irrelevance capped by the crowning glory of English philosophy, the jabbering of Ordinary Language Philosophy which was the death knell of empiricism and pragmatism in philosophy in favour of incoherence and nullity. OLP is a philosophical "stance" that let you step through existentialist text's dry discussion of angst and anomie and experience it directly, right off the page, as you wade through philosophical gibberish of the most learned sort.

Learn Science in Your Spare Time in Order to Earn More Money!

Here's an interesting discussion of cosmology done in web comic strip style by Jorge Cham on his blog Piled Higher and Deeper:

Now... about that promise of "earn more money". It isn't a money-back guarantee, but I fully expect that if you had the curiosity to watch the above video, you will be earning more than the average person. Guaranteed!

Global Warming and Tornadoes

Here is a post by Roy Spencer, climatologist and a Principal Research Scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, as well as the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He takes on the global warming crowd in this post on his blog:
I see the inevitable blame-humanity game has been reinvigorated by the recent tornado swarm. I have not read other meteorologists’ treatment of this issue, so what follows can be considered an independent opinion on the matter.

If there is one weather phenomenon global warming theory does NOT predict more of, it would be severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Tornadic thunderstorms do not require tropical-type warmth. In fact, tornadoes are almost unheard of in the tropics, despite frequent thunderstorm activity.

Instead, tornadoes require strong wind shear (wind speed and direction changing rapidly with height in the lower atmosphere), the kind which develops when cold and warm air masses “collide”. Of course, other elements must be present, such as an unstable airmass and sufficient low-level humidity, but wind shear is the key. Strong warm advection (warm air riding up and over the cooler air mass, which is also what causes the strong wind shear) in advance of a low pressure area riding along the boundary between the two air masses is where these storms form.

But contrasting air mass temperatures is the key. Active tornado seasons in the U.S. are almost always due to unusually COOL air persisting over the Midwest and Ohio Valley longer than it normally does as we transition into spring.

For example, the poster child for active tornado seasons was the Superoutbreak of 1974, which was during globally cool conditions. This year, we are seeing much cooler than normal conditions through the corn belt, even delaying the planting schedule. Cool La Nina years seem to favor more tornadoes, and we are now coming out of a persistent La Nina. The global-average temperature has plummeted by about 1 deg. F in just one year.

An unusually warm Gulf of Mexico of 1 or 2 degrees right now cannot explain the increase in contrast between warm and cold air masses which is key for tornado formation because that slight warmth cannot compete with the 10 to 20 degree below-normal air in the Midwest and Ohio Valley which has not wanted to give way to spring yet.

The “extra moisture” from the Gulf is not that important, because it’s almost always available this time of year…it’s the wind shear that caused this outbreak.

More tornadoes due to “global warming”, if such a thing happened, would be more tornadoes in Canada, where they don’t usually occur. NOT in Alabama.

It is well known that strong to violent tornado activity in the U.S. has decreased markedly since statistics began in the 1950s, which has also been a period of average warming. So, if anything, global warming causes FEWER tornado outbreaks…not more. In other words, more violent tornadoes would, if anything, be a sign of “global cooling”, not “global warming”.

Anyone who claims more tornadoes are caused by global warming is either misinformed, pandering, or delusional.
Despite the science, media reports are busy affirming that "global warming" has caused the increased number of tornadoes in the US southern states. This just proves that you shouldn't learn your "science" from the media. And you shouldn't "learn" anything from a public interest group since they are partisans with a viewpoint they are trying to sell. You need to be skeptical and look to facts.

Oh... and if you want to know whether "global warming" causes more hurricanes, take a look at Ryan Maue's research material:
Global Tropical Cyclone ACE does not show an upward trend in communion with global temperatures.

In the five years since 2006, Northern Hemisphere and overall global tropical cyclone (TC) accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) has decreased dramatically to the lowest levels in at least 30-years. Here we examine the strikingly large global interannual variability of TC ACE during the past 40-years and shed light on the large-scale climate mechanisms responsible for the recent historical downturn in TC activity. Much of the variability in global TC ACE is explained by the concomitant changes or evolution in the character of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). In the context of the Pacific climate variability and its effect on global TC activity, our results suggest that the ongoing period of heightened North Atlantic hurricane activity is related to decreases in storm activity elsewhere.
Instead of the simple relationship of "global temperatures rise and cause more hurricanes" the real relationship is very complex and dependent on large cycles in systems such as ENSO (El Niño/La Niña Southern Oscillation in the Pacific). But complex relationships don't "sell" simple messages like "CO2 causes global warming" or "global warming causes hurricanes" or "global warming causes sea level rise" of "human activity harms Mother Nature and she will strike back at us".

Friday, April 29, 2011

Krugman Skewers the Washington Elite

In a very biting and very trenchant observation, Paul Krugman asks about Washington's priorities. He points out the skewed "concerns" that see mayham in moderation while ignoring very real deep pain and suffering. From his NY Times blog:
Visualizing Priorities

A few charts to illustrate what you are and are not supposed to be worried about. I start these charts in 1985, that is, after Morning in America, so that our view isn’t distorted by the high inflation and interest rates of the 70s and early 80s.

So, here’s what we’re supposed to be deeply worried about. First, bond market confidence:

Second, inflation:

Meanwhile, we’re not supposed to worry about unemployment:

A naive observer might note that interest rates are low by historical standards, making you wonder why we’re obsessing about the bond market; that inflation is also low by historical standards, making you wonder why it’s an issue at all; and that unemployment is immensely high. But Washington has its priorities.
If you read history you find this pig-headedness persists. The rich are adamant about protecting their interests and see dangers everywhere. Meanwhile, the poor fall off the edge of the world and the rich keep partying on completely unconcerned. The world is a very unfair, very ugly place for the bottom 90%. For the top 10% it is a pleasant place, for the top 1% it is a delight, and for the top 0.1% it is a paradise, and for the top 0.01% it is the land of aristocrats who can rape and pillage at will knowing that the law does not apply to them.

Goldman Sachs is Evil

Here is the headline and first bit from an excellent article in Foreign Policy magazine:
How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis

Don't blame American appetites, rising oil prices, or genetically modified crops for rising food prices. Wall Street's at fault for the spiraling cost of food.

Demand and supply certainly matter. But there's another reason why food across the world has become so expensive: Wall Street greed.

It took the brilliant minds of Goldman Sachs to realize the simple truth that nothing is more valuable than our daily bread. And where there's value, there's money to be made. In 1991, Goldman bankers, led by their prescient president Gary Cohn, came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, from precious metals and energy to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, hogs, soy, and wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known henceforth as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).


But Goldman's index perverted the symmetry of this system. The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns. This newfangled derivative product was "long only," which meant the product was constructed to buy commodities, and only buy. At the bottom of this "long-only" strategy lay an intent to transform an investment in commodities (previously the purview of specialists) into something that looked a great deal like an investment in a stock -- the kind of asset class wherein anyone could park their money and let it accrue for decades (along the lines of General Electric or Apple). Once the commodity market had been made to look more like the stock market, bankers could expect new influxes of ready cash. But the long-only strategy possessed a flaw, at least for those of us who eat. The GSCI did not include a mechanism to sell or "short" a commodity.

This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying -- no matter what the price. Every time the due date of a long-only commodity index futures contract neared, bankers were required to "roll" their multi-billion dollar backlog of buy orders over into the next futures contract, two or three months down the line. And since the deflationary impact of shorting a position simply wasn't part of the GSCI, professional grain traders could make a killing by anticipating the market fluctuations these "rolls" would inevitably cause. "I make a living off the dumb money," commodity trader Emil van Essen told Businessweek last year. Commodity traders employed by the banks that had created the commodity index funds in the first place rode the tides of profit.


Since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, there has been a 50-fold increase in dollars invested in commodity index funds. To put the phenomenon in real terms: In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008, and as dollars, pounds, and euros evaded investor confidence, commodities -- including food -- seemed like the last, best place for hedge, pension, and sovereign wealth funds to park their cash. "You had people who had no clue what commodities were all about suddenly buying commodities," an analyst from the United States Department of Agriculture told me. In the first 55 days of 2008, speculators poured $55 billion into commodity markets, and by July, $318 billion was roiling the markets. Food inflation has remained steady since.
Go read the rest of the article.

It is one thing for speculators to bid up the price of art or luxury cars or beach houses. It is another they their greed pushes up the costs for average people through higher fuel costs, higher food expenses, and busted housing dreams. Obama needs to quit playing footsie with these evil financiers and start enforcing anti-monopoly and anti-speculation laws against these insatiably greedy Wall Street types.

Why Disasters Seem More Numerous Now

I got a chuckle out of this review of technology by Anthony Watts on his blog Watts Up With That?. These advances mean information comes more timely, more reliably, to a larger audience, and persists longer than ever before:
Using this Wikipedia timeline as a start, I’ve created a timeline that tracks the earliest communications to the present, adding also severe weather events of note and weather and news technology improvements for context.
  • Prior to 3500BC – Communication was carried out through paintings of indigenous tribes.

  • 3500s BC – The Sumerians develop cuneiform writing and the Egyptians develop hieroglyphic writing

  • 16th century BC – The Phoenicians develop an alphabet

  • AD 26-37 – Roman Emperor Tiberius rules the empire from island of Capri by signaling messages with metal mirrors to reflect the sun

  • 105 – Tsai Lun invents paper

  • 7th century – Hindu-Malayan empires write legal documents on copper plate scrolls, and write other documents on more perishable media

  • 751 – Paper is introduced to the Muslim world after the Battle of Talas

  • 1305 – The Chinese develop wooden block movable type printing

  • 1450 – Johannes Gutenberg finishes a printing press with metal movable type

  • 1520 – Ships on Ferdinand Magellan‘s voyage signal to each other by firing cannon and raising flags.

  • 1776 The Pointe-à-Pitre hurricane was at one point the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. At least 6,000 fatalities occurred on Guadeloupe, which was a higher death toll than any known hurricane before it. It also struck Louisiana, but there was no warning nor knowledge of the deaths on Guadeloupe when it did. It also affected Antigua and Martinique early in its duration.

  • 1780 – The Great Hurricane of 1780, also known as Hurricane San Calixto is considered the deadliest Atlantic tropical cyclone of all time. About 22,000 people died when the storm swept over Martinique, St. Eustatius and Barbados between October 10 and October 16. Thousands of deaths also occurred offshore. Reports of this hurricane took weeks to reach US newspapers of the era.

  • 1793 – Claude Chappe establishes the first long-distance semaphore telegraph line

  • 1812 – The Aug. 19, 1812 New Orleans Hurricane that didn’t appear in the Daily National Intelligencer/(Washington, DC) until later September. Daily National Intelligencer. Sept. 22, 1812, p. 3. Dreadful Hurricane. The following letters present an account of the ravages of one of those terrific storms to which the Southern extreme of our continent is so subject. Extract of a letter from Gen. Wilkinson, dated New Orleans, August 22.

  • 1831 – Joseph Henry proposes and builds an electric telegraph

  • 1835 – Samuel Morse develops the Morse code

  • 1843 – Samuel Morse builds the first long distance electric telegraph line

  • 1844 – Charles Fenerty produces paper from a wood pulp, eliminating rag paper which was in limited supply

  • 1849 – Associated Press organizes Nova Scotia pony express to carry latest European news for New York newspapers

  • 1851 – The New York Times newspaper founded

  • 1876 – Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson exhibit an electric telephone in Boston

  • 1877 – Thomas Edison patents the phonograph

  • 1889 – Almon Strowger patents the direct dial telephone

  • 1901 – Guglielmo Marconi transmits radio signals from Cornwall to Newfoundland

  • 1906 – Reginald Fessenden used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter for the first radio program broadcast, from Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing O Holy Night on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible.

  • 1914 – teletype intrduced as a news tool The Associated Press introduced the “telegraph typewriter” or teletype into newsrooms in 1914, making transmission of entire ready to read news stories available worldwide.

  • 1920 – The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news format station WWJ under ownership of the CBS network.

  • 1925 – John Logie Baird transmits the first television signal

  • 1928 – NBC completed the first permanent coast-to-coast radio network in the United States, linked by telephone circuits

  • 1935 – Associated Press launched the Wirephoto network, which allowed transmission of news photographs over telephone lines on the day they were taken.

  • 1942 – Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil invent frequency hopping spread spectrum communication technique

  • 1946 – The DuMont Television Network, which had begun experimental broadcasts before the war, launched what Newsweek called “the country’s first permanent commercial television network” on August 15, 1946

  • 1947 – Douglas H. Ring and W. Rae Young of Bell Labs proposed a cell-based approach which lead to “cellular phones“

  • 1947 – July 27th. The WSR-1 weather surveillance radar, cobbled together from spare parts of the Navy AN/APS-2F radar was put into service in Norfolk, NE. It was later replaced by improved models WSR-3 and WSR-4

  • 1948 – Network TV news begins. Launched in February 1948 by NBC, Camel Newsreel Theatre was a 10-minute program anchored by John Cameron Swayze, and featured newsreels from Movietone News. CBS soon followed suit in May 1948 with a 15-minute program, CBS-TV News, anchored by Douglas Edwards and subsequently renamed Douglas Edwards with the News.

  • 1948 – The first successful “tornado forecast” issued, and successfully predicted the 1948 Tinker Air Force Base tornadoes which were two tornadoes which struck Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on March 20 and March 25.

  • In 1953, Donald Staggs, an electrical engineer working for the Illinois State Water Survey, made the first recorded radar observation of a “hook echo” associated with a tornadic thunderstorm.

  • 1957 the WSR-57 the first ‘modern’ weather radar, is commissioned by the U.S. Weather Bureau

  • 1958 – Chester Carlson presents the first photocopier suitable for office use

  • 1960 – TIROS-1 the first successful weather satellite, and the first of a series of Television Infrared Observation Satellites, was launched at 6:40 AM EST[1] on April 1, 1960 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

  • 1962 – The first satellite television signal was relayed from Europe to the Telstar satellite over North America.

  • 1963 – First geosynchronous communications satellite is launched, 17 years after Arthur C. Clarke‘s article

  • 1963 CBS Evening News establishes the standard 30 minute network news broadcast. On September 2, 1963, the show expanded from 15 to 30 minutes.

  • 1966 – Charles Kao realizes that silica-based optical waveguides offer a practical way to transmit light via total internal reflection

  • 1967 – The National Hurricane Center is established in the Miami, FL National Weather Service Forecast Office.

  • 1969 – The first hosts of ARPANET, Internet‘s ancestor, are connected.

  • 1969 – August 14-22 Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 storm, gets widespread network news coverage from correspondents “on the scene”.

  • 1969 – Compuserve, and early dialup text based bulletin board system is launched in Columbus, Ohio, serving just that city

  • 1971 – Erna Schneider Hoover invented a computerized switching system for telephone traffic.

  • 1971 – Ray Tomlinson is generally credited as having sent the first email across a network, initiating the use of the “@” sign to separate the names of the user and the user’s machine.

  • 1972 – Radio Shack stores introduce “The Weather Cube”, the first mass marketed weather alert radio. (page 77 here) allowing citizens to get weather forecasts and bulletins in their home for only $14.95

  • 1974 April 3rd – WCPO-TV in Cincinnati carries the “Sayler Park Tornado” live on television as it was crossing the Ohio river. It was part of the biggest tornado super outbreak in history. It is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states. Lack of timely warnings demonstrated the need for an expanded NOAA weather radio warning system.

  • 1974 – The first Synchronous Meteorological Satellite SMS-1 was launched May 17, followed later by GOES-1 in 1975.

  • 1974 the WSR-74 the second modern radar system is put into service at selected National Weather Service office in the United States and exported to other countries.

  • 1975 – The Altair 8800, the world’s first home computer kit was introduced in the January edition of popular electronics

  • 1975-1976 NOAA Weather Radio network expanded from about 50 transmitters to 330 with a goal of reaching 70 percent of the populace with storm warning broadcasts.

  • 1977 – Radio Shack introduces a weather radio with built in automatic alerting that will sound off when the National Weather Service issues an alert on the new expanded NOAA Weather Radio network with over 100 stations. Page 145 here

  • 1977 – The Apple II, one of the first highly successful mass-produced home microcomputers was introduced.

  • 1978 – NOAA Weather Radio receivers with automatic audio insertion capabilities for radio and TV audio began to become widely installed.

  • 1979 – The first commercially automated cellular network (the 1G) was launched in Japan by NTT in 1979, initially in the metropolitan area of Tokyo. Within five years, the NTT network had been expanded to cover the whole population of Japan and became the first nationwide 1G network.

  • 1980 – Cable News Network (CNN) is founded by Ted Turner.Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States.

  • 1980 - A heatwave hit much of the United States, killing as many as 1,250 people in one of the deadliest heat waves in history.

  • 1981 – Home satellite dishes and receivers on C-band start to become widely available.

  • 1981 – The IBM Personal Computer aka IBM model number 5150, and was introduced on August 12, 1981, it set a standard for x86 systems still in use today.

  • 1982, May 2nd – The Weather Channel (TWC) is launched by John Coleman and Joe D’Aleo with 24 hour broadcasts of computerized weather forecasts and weather-related news.

  • 1983 – Sony released the first consumer camcorder—the Betamovie BMC-100P

  • 1983 America Online (then as Control Video Corporation, Vienna, Virginia) debuts as a nationwide bulletin board system featuring email.

  • 1983 – The first 1G cellular telephone network launched in the USA was Chicago-based Ameritech using the Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone.

  • 1984 – The Apple Macintosh computer, with a built in graphical interface, was announced. The Macintosh was introduced by the now famous US$1.5 million Ridley Scott television commercial, “1984“. The commercial most notably aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on 22 January 1984 and is now considered a “watershed event”.

  • 1985 – Panasonic, RCA, and Hitachi began producing camcorders that recorded to full-sized VHS cassette and offered up to 3 hours of record time. TV news soon began to have video of news and weather events submitted from members of the public.

  • 1986 July 18th, KARE-TV in Minneapolis dispatches a news helicopter to catch live video of a tornado in progress, live at 5:13 PM during their news broadcast.

  • 1988 – Doppler Radar goes national – the construction of a network consisting of 10 cm (4 in) wavelength radars, called NEXRAD or WSR-88D (Weather Service Radar 1988 Doppler), was started.

  • 1989 – Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau built the prototype system which became the World Wide Web at CERN

  • 1989 – August Sony announced the Sony ProMavica (Magnetic Video Camera) electronic still camera, considered the first widely available electronic camera able to load images to a computer via floppy disk.

  • 1991 – Anders Olsson transmits solitary waves through an optical fiber with a data rate of 32 billion bits per second.

  • 1991 – The 1991 Perfect Storm hits New England as a Category 1 hurricane and causes $1 billion dollars in damage. Covered widely in TV and print, it later becomes a movie starring George Clooney.

  • 1992 – Neil Papworth sends the first SMS (or text message).

  • 1992 – August 16-28 Hurricane Andrew, spotted at sea with weather satellites, is given nearly continuous coverage on CNN and other network news outlets as it approaches Florida. Live TV news via satellite coverage as well as some Internet coverage is offered. It was the first Category 5 hurricane imaged on NEXRAD.

  • 1993 – The Great Mississippi Flood was carried on network television as levees breached, millions of viewers watched the flood in real-time and near real-time.

  • 1994 – Internet2 organization created

  • 1994 – Home satellite service DirecTV launched on June 17th

  • 1994 – An initiative by Vice President Gore raised the NOAA Weather Radio warning coverage to 95 percent of the US populace.

  • 1995 – The Weather Underground website was launched

  • 1995 – DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) began to be implemented in the USA

  • 1996 – Home satellite service Dish Network launched on March 4th

  • 1996 – Fox News Channel was launched on October 7, 1996 with 24 hour news coverage

  • 1996 – The Movie “Twister” was released on May 10, showing the drama and science of severe weather chasing in the USA midwest.

  • 1999 – Dr. Kevin Trenberth posts a report and web essay titled The Extreme Weather Events of 1997 and 1998 citing “global greenhouse warming” as a cause. Trenberth recognizes “wider coverage” but dismisses it saying: “While we are indeed exposed to more and ever-wider coverage of the weather, the nature of some of the records being broken suggests a deeper explanation: that real changes are under way.”

  • 2002 – Google News page was launched in March. It was later updated to so that users can request e-mail “alerts” on various keyword topics by subscribing to Google News Alerts.

  • 2004 – December: A freak snowstorm hits the southernmost parts of Texas and Louisiana, dumping snow into regions that do not normally witness winter snowfall during the hours leading up to December 25 in what is called the 2004 Christmas Eve Snowstorm.

  • 2004 – DSL began to become widely accepted in the USA, making broadband Internet connections affordable to most homes.

  • 2004 – On November 19, the Website “Real Climate” was introduced, backed by Fenton communications, to sell the idea of climate change from “real scientists”.

  • 2004 – December The website “Climate Audit” was launched.

  • 2005 – August, Hurricane Katrina caused catastrophic damage along the Gulf Coast of the United States, forcing the effective abandonment of southeastern Louisiana (including New Orleans) for up to 2 months and damaging oil wells that sent gas prices in the U.S. to an all-time record high. Katrina killed at least 1,836 people and caused at least $75 billion US in damages, making it one of the costliest natural disasters of all time. TV viewers worldwide watched the storm strike in real time, Internet coverage was also timely and widespread.

  • 2006 – Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and opening in New York City and Los Angeles on May 24. It went on to limited theater release and home view DVD. It was the first entertainment film about global warming as a “crisis”, with hurricane Katrina prominently featured as “result” of global warming.

  • 2006 – The short instant message service Twitter was launched July 15, 2006

  • 2006 – November 17th, Watts Up With That was launched.

  • 2007 – The iPhone, with graphics and Twitter instant messaging capabilities was released on June 29, 2007.

  • 2007 – The reality show “Storm Chasers” debuts on the Discovery channel on October 17, 2007, showing severe weather pursuit as entertainment.

  • 2007 – On October 10th, in Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education and Skills Al Gore’s AIT movie was challenged in a UK court, and found to have nine factual errors. It was the first time “science as movie” had been legally challenged.

  • The 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak was a deadly tornado outbreak affecting the Southern United States and the lower Ohio Valley from February 5 to February 6, 2008. With more than 80 confirmed tornados and 58 deaths, the outbreak was the deadliest in the U.S. since the May 31, 1985 outbreak that killed 76 across Ohio and Pennsylvania. It was widely covered live on US media.

  • 2010 – A heat wave in Russia was widely reported by global media as being directly a result of “global warming”. Scientific research from NOAA released later in 2010 and 2011 showed that to be a false claim.

  • 2011 – On January 4th, the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that Internet had surpassed television as the preferred source for news, especially among younger people.

  • 2011 – March, notice of an Earthquake off the coast of Japan was blogged near real-time thanks to a USGS email message alert before TV news media picked up the story, followed by A Tsunami warning. A Japanese TV news helicopter with live feed was dispatched and showed the Tsunami live as it approached the coast of Japan and hit the beaches. Carried by every major global news outlet lus live streamed on the Internet, it was the first time a Tsunami of this magnitude was seen live on global television before it impacted land.
Compare the reach and speed of communications and news reporting at the beginning of this timeline to the reach and speed of communications and news reporting technology around the beginning of the 20th century. Then compare that to the beginning of the 21st century. Compare again to what we’ve seen in the last 10 years.
Go read the original article to get the embedded links and other relevant material.

Dysfunctional Institutions, the Science Edition

I saw the corruption of the proposal process in the sciences when I was working in R&D. I found that you had to promise more than you knew you could deliver in order to "stick out from the crowd". Another problem that I encountered was that, as industry, you had to include university partners and offer them large sums to sign on. But there was simply no way to get the university researchers to live up to their contractual promises. The system was broken. It was a mess. And the fund administrators didn't know enough science to even understand this since they could be flim-flammed.

Here's an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education which exposes the problem:
Academic science is in a crisis. At a time when scientific innovation is desperately needed to solve some of the world's most pressing environmental, technological, and medical problems, how scientists get money for their research stifles, rather than spurs, creativity.

The structural defect causing this major problem can be stated simply: The failure rate for proposals submitted by academic scientists has reached such high levels that many professors must spend virtually all their time writing proposals, leaving the creative thinking to graduate students and postdoctoral associates. The result is science by proxy.


Universities are partly to blame. Some institutions explicitly tell their faculty members that they are expected to bring in $300,000 or more in grants each year. Researchers sometimes receive awards for bringing in more funds than anyone else at their institutions. At one academic banquet, a dean requested that professors who brought in over a half-million dollars stand up and be applauded by the audience. Such displays of commercialism exemplify what has been called the "selling culture" and a "gold-digger" mentality among university administrators.
Two things need to be done. First, increase the respect for teaching and lower the career rewards for publishing and winning grants. Second, give professors a free hand to pursue their own research interests through some system that gives them a large but not unlimited timeframe in which to establish their careers, say 10 years, before the publish or perish and grant wars pressures are brought to bear.

Inventive Legislators

Funny... you put a stake through the heart and it still rises up. Here's the Ryan plan back under another guise. From Robert Reich's blog:
If you can’t sell the pig, figure Republicans, put lipstick on it and maybe no one will notice. Add some perfume and maybe you’ll even attract enough Dems to get it enacted.

A Senate proposal by Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri would save $7.6 trillion over 10 years. How? By capping federal spending at 20.6 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. That’s down from 24.3 percent now.

This is the Ryan plan with lipstick. The Ryan plan puts spending at 20.25 of GDP in 10 years. By comparison, spending under Republican President Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989 averaged 22 percent of GDP at a time when no baby boomers had retired.
There's more. Go read the whole article.

I find it funny how magical thinking continues to have its hold on politicians in the US. Rather than face up to the fact that 30 years of tax reductions for the ultra-rich and corporations has bankrupted the public purse, they keep trying to come up with ways to tie their hands and live within the constraints that leave the super-rich fat & happy and the economy mired in recession and the bottom 90% paying taxes to support the rich in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed under a series of Republican governments. Funny.

Obama Pulls a "I'm the Boss So You Shut Up" Routine

Obama sold himself in 2008 as the liberal alternative to the previous 8 years of Republican "stage managed" presidency where the people were allowed as props in photo ops, but were not allowed to have a voice, and certainly not a free press.

But in 2011 Obama shows himself to be a Bush Mini-Me with the same deep gutted desire to control the media and refuse to allow a free press. Here's an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that illustrates how Obama will ban any reporter who has the audacity to report a planned demonstration at a Democratic party fund raiser.

The hip, transparent and social media-loving Obama administration is showing its analog roots. And maybe even some hypocrisy highlights.

White House officials have banished one of the best political reporters in the country from the approved pool of journalists covering presidential visits to the Bay Area for using now-standard multimedia tools to gather the news.

The Chronicle's Carla Marinucci - who, like many contemporary reporters, has a phone with video capabilities on her at all times -shot some protesters interrupting an Obama fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel.
It is quite odd that the founders of the US felt it important enough to put the rights of a free press into the Constitution, but US presidents think they are above the law and can gag and control the media to ensure that only a "managed news" ever gets out. Crazy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Selling the American Dream... Down the River

Here is a bit from a post on the BoingBoing blog about an economist who worked really, really hard to pump up the real estate balloon which popped and has spread misery, unemployment, and foreclosures across the land...
Click to Enlarge

David Lereah served as economist for the National Association of Realtors and published a series of books advising readers that there was no real estate bubble and that buying highly leveraged property would make them rich. The Amazon reviews sections for these books have become a kind of performance space for highly sarcastic commentary on the conmen who sold America on the idea of going into hock to buy real estate.
The sad fact is that knowingly pumping up a financial bubble that costs 14 million jobs and causes several million Americans to lose their homes is not a crime. To my mind David Lereah created more unjustified suffering than all the American criminals of the 20th century, but unlike the, he gets to walk the street and live off the "earnings" of the people he lied to and misled. He will never spend a day in jail. But he left more pain, suffering, and misery that all the Al Capones, mafiosi, and drug gangs combined. There is no justice here.

US Crimes at Guantanamo

In twenty or thirty years, Americans will be aghast at the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations. They have allowed innocent people to be imprisoned for years. Here is the latest one. This info was leaked via UK newspapers via a blog that monitors the press in the UK:
The Daily Telegraph has published 759 of the leaked Guantánamo files it obtained from WikiLeaks, despite the files not having been redacted to remove sensitive information.

One of the documents published by the Telegraph today includes the full name of a boy detained at Guantánamo who, according to the file, was raped at the age of 15, just prior to being transferred to the camp.


No charges were brought against the detainee, who was captured by US forces in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantánamo Bay "because of his possible knowledge of Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders". He was released a little more than a year after being transferred to the camp.
Go read the original post to get the full article and the embedded links.

Like the vicious internment of innocent Japanese during WWII, this Guantanamo camp with so many innocent people swept up in Afghanistan and Pakistan forced to endure years of mistreatment by brutal American torture techniques and years of imprisonment with no charges, no evidence, and no guilt.

My personal concern is the vicious treatment of Omar Khadr, a child soldier pushed into al Qaeda by his fanatical father. The kid was 15 when captured. Under international law you can't treat children as "soldiers" but the US has ignored international law. It held him for 8 years before they finally wore him down to sign a "guilty" plea. For that, the US gave him a 16 year sentence. His crime? The US claims he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier, but that is really, really hard to prove. But even if he did, you don't put 15 year olds into prison for 16 years for that. And you certainly don't torture them for years and years. Oh wait... I need to qualify that. Civilized countries don't do that, but the US does and is doing it to Omar Khadr.

Guantanamo is a very black mark on America and it will only fester. Obama promised to close it in 2008 and have trials, but it is now two years later and still nothing! Twenty or thirty years from now Americans will have to hang their heads in shame for these crimes. To my mind it is a crime on the same scale at uprooting 110,000 innocent people, forcing them to sell their homes and businesses "for a song", and shipping them off to godawful desolate places to live behind wire, watched closely by soldiers with machine guns, and having their lives run by prison administration... for no crime!

There are a few guilty terrorists at Guantanamo, but they make up less than a third of the internees. The whole "secret prisons" and "extra legal" treatment of post-9/11 suspects is a horrible black mark on America.

Cynical on Citizenship

Here are some bits from a serious post by Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist:
I think the birther issue is good for the country. A modern republic needs some simple and unimportant issues to keep its citizens invested in the process. The important issues of our time are far too complicated for the average person, and I count myself in that group. We need a few simple issues so we can be part of the political conversation without hurting anything. The last thing our system of government needs is regular citizens getting involved in Middle East strategy, healthcare reform, the budget, climate change, or anything else that might matter.

I'm entirely serious. It's healthy that we average citizens have some sort of topic in the political realm that will keep us engaged while also siphoning off some of our activist energy. It reminds us that we have a role in government. It reminds us that we have a constitution. It reminds us that we're in charge, sort of. And it gives the news media something to talk about on slow news days, which is important for keeping that vital institution in business.

Most citizens would lose all interest in government if there were no issues they could grasp. In a perfect world, the largely clueless citizenry, including me, would feel as if we're part of the system while having no power to break anything important. The birther issue is sort of like letting your toddler have a toy steering wheel in his car seat. He feels as if he's doing something useful and you don't have to rely on him to keep you out of the ravine.


Imagine a media that has no topics that can be understood at a sixth-grade level of reading comprehension. That's the sweet spot for clear writing regardless of the reader's education. As soon as you go above the sixth-grade level, you lose about two-thirds of the country, maybe more. The high end of the news industry couldn't stay in business if it only reported on issues that require a high school level of reading comprehension to follow along. We need a well-financed news media to act as watchdogs for the government. Bloggers aren't going to do it.

Now the media is beginning to focus on the issue of President Obama's academic record. This is the very best situation that a healthy republic could hope for. I can't imagine anything more useful than focusing on the educational achievements of the President. And when this issue gets old I propose we focus on the question of whether President Obama is still sneaking a cigarette now and then.

I feel sorry for the serious journalists that feel obliged to cover stories about the birther situation. Perhaps a healthy compromise is to label such issues as "citizen engagement" issues and acknowledge that they have an important role in educating voters and keeping people interested in the system.
I don't have the same low opinion of people or democracy that Scott Adams has. I believe people are very effective voters just using their common sense and assessment of character of candidates. they don't have to understand all the nuances of policy. They do need to know whether this candidate supports people in need or people in greed, whether their votes are bought and they try to "sell" policies that make no sense, or whether they talk about jobs, education, healthcare, infrastructure, children, and the future. I think people are smart enough to figure out that "tax cuts for the rich" isn't in their own best interest.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Latest Entrant into the Renewable Energy Armory

Would you believe that petroleum and natural gas are now thought to be "renewable energy sources"? Here's a bit from a post on Geoffrey Styles' Energy Outlook blog:
However, there's another, more controversial theory of the origins of at least some oil and gas, suggesting that they were formed by chemical or biological activity much deeper in the earth, and then migrated long distances before being trapped. If correct, that would mean that not only aren't these fuels truly fossils--and thus essentially static and finite--but that they might actually be continuously regenerated by natural processes in much shorter time spans. A number of academics appear to hold this view, and it was a common theory of petroleum origin among Soviet scientists. Much of this is explored in a lengthy white paper on the Deep Carbon Observatory site, including the shortcomings of current analytical techniques in determining definitively whether a given sample of methane originated from organic material in sedimentary rock or from some other source.

Finding gas or oil in deposits much deeper than those we already know about, or in places that aren't consistent with our present understanding of petroleum geology, would represent an even bigger potential energy revolution than the one begun by the recent development of the means of unlocking shale gas resources. It would also shift our perspective on the nature and required speed of the energy transition on which we've embarked. If oil and gas weren't finite--at least in human terms--it might alter the urgency of deploying some of the alternative energy technologies now in our repertoire. At the same time, it would have enormous implications for climate change, by greatly increasing the ultimate quantity of carbon we could eventually emit to the atmosphere.
I enjoy stories like this because they show that all the "sure thing" thinking that most people have never acknowledges how little we really know and how much science can revolutionize our thinking.

Robert Reich Connects the Dots

This is an excellent 2 minute summary explaining the ails of the US economy...

Getting It Wrong in a Really Big Way

Here is a bit from an excellent post by Robert Reich that points out that the big shots at the top of the economy are reading the wrong tea leaves. They are getting it wrong. They are reading the opposite of what is really there:
Much of Wall Street thinks inflation is now the biggest threat to the US economy. As has been the case in the past, the Street is dead wrong. The biggest threat is falling into another recession.

The most significant economic news from the first quarter of 2011 is the decline in real wages. That’s unusual in a recovery, to say the least. But it’s easily explained this time around. In order to keep the jobs they have, millions of Americans are accepting shrinking paychecks. If they’ve been fired, the only way they can land a new job is to accept even smaller ones.

The wage squeeze is putting most households in a double bind. Before the recession, they’d been able to pay the bills because they had two paychecks. Now, they’re likely to have one-and-a half, or just one, and it’s shrinking.

Add to this the continuing decline in the value of the biggest asset most people own – their homes – and what do you get? Consumers who won’t and can’t buy enough to keep the economy going. That spells recession.

Why doesn’t Wall Street get it? For one thing, because lenders always worry more about inflation than borrowers – and, in general, the wealthier members of a society tend to lend their money to people who are poorer than they are.

But Wall Street’s inflation fears are also being stoked by several specifics.

First are price upswings in food and energy. The Street doesn’t seem to understand that when most peoples’ wages are dropping, additional dollars they spend on groceries and at the gas pump means fewer dollars they have left to spend in the rest of the economy. Rather than cause inflation, this is likely to lead to more job losses.

The Street is also worried that the Fed’s easy money policies are pushing the dollar down and thereby fueling inflation – as everything we buy abroad becomes more expensive. But if wages are stuck in the mud and everything we buy abroad costs more, Americans have even fewer dollars to spend. This also spells recession, not inflation.

Finally, the Street worries that if Democrats and Republicans fail to agree to a plan to cut the budget deficit, the credit-worthiness of the United States as a whole will be in jeopardy – causing interest rates to rocket and inflation to explode. Standard & Poors, the erstwhile credit-rating agency, has already sounded the alarm.

The Street has it backwards. Over the long term, the deficit does have to be tackled. But not now. When job growth remains tepid, when wages are dropping, and when the value of most households’ major asset is declining, government has to step in to maintain overall demand.

This is the worst possible time to cut public spending or reduce the money supply.

The biggest irony is that the Street is doing wonderfully well right now, in contrast to most Americans. Corporate profits for the first quarter of the year are way up. That’s largely because corporate payrolls are down.

Payrolls are down because big companies have been shifting much of their work abroad where business is booming. The Commerce Department recently reported that over the last decade American multinationals (essentially all large American corporations) eliminated 2.9 million American jobs while adding 2.4 million abroad.

What the Commerce Department didn’t say is the pace is picking up.
This pig-headed refusal to look at reality and see it for what it is makes life miserable for the bottom 90% of society. Reich sums it up nicely:
America’s jobless recovery is becoming a wageless recovery. That puts the odds of another recession greater than the risk of inflation. Wall Street and its representatives in Washington don’t understand – or don’t want to.
Sadly Obama doesn't "get it". He has never acknowledged that his economic policies are always a dollar short and a day late.

Smart People Advocating Dumb Policies

I was at an investment conference yesterday and was thoroughly frustrated by hearing the speakers demand more austerity, cut deficits, get debt under control. I finally piped up and pointed out that this bad advice is exactly the road that the UK has embarked upon and it is leading to very bad results there. The speakers at the conference retrenched a bit. While advocating deficit/debt reduction they were willing to admit that it should be done with care and it "could" take place on a timeframe of years and not immediately.

I'm frustrated because all these voices calling for spending cuts immediately are threatening a 1937-style recession within a depression. FDR succumbed to these howls about cutting deficits and worries about inflation and he produced a slump inside the Great Depression.

Since these were investors worried about the effects of inflation, I put my point as a "concern": if you go after deficits & debts before the recovery is soundly established, you can crash the stock market. The Dow Jones index dropped from a high of 185 in 1937 to a low of 113 in 1938. That's a fall of 40%. As investors, we have to be careful what we wish for. If you think the bogeyman is "deficits and debts" and push hard to cut them "now!" like the Republicans are doing, you can end up watching your investments evaporate as the market retreats by 40% in the face of a big downturn in the economy.

The speakers at the conference toned down their cry for cutting deficits and debts "now!" and rephrased this as "over time as the economy strengthens". More people need to call out the fanatics and to get them to tone down their cries for austerity "now!". If we don't push back, we may get the 1937 equivalent.

Here's a bit from a Paul Krugman post on his NY Times blog on the same subject:
The bad GDP number for the UK isn’t a surprise — in fact, judging from market response, investors seem to have expected something even worse. Still, if you step back and look at what has been happening, it’s doubleplusungood: zero growth over the past 6 months, with every reason to be worried on the downside looking forward, as Cameron’s austerity bites deeper.

Jonathan Portes gets to the nub of it:
On fiscal policy, the message is that we should listen to economists, not credit rating agencies. Most mainstream economists argued that the impact of the government’s fiscal consolidation on confidence and consumer demand would be negative; so it has proved.

Meanwhile, the argument that fiscal overkill was necessary to appease the credit rating agencies has again been disproved by market reaction – or the lack of it – to the Standard & Poor’s outlook warning last week in America, where US Treasury yields hardly budged.
In short, there is no confidence fairy; and S&P can call invisible bond vigilantes from the vasty deep, but they won’t actually come when called.

Portes hits, in particular, on a point I’ve tried to make a number of times, here and more recently here: right now, we’re living in a world in which basic economics points to conclusions utterly at odds with what Very Serious People are supposed to believe, in which radical outsiders base their views on standard economics while orthodox types turn to heterodox, highly dubious speculations.
Go read the whole post to get the embedded links.

Art Posing as Technology

This is a beautiful machine with a wonderful technological process. It is spell binding. It is a kind of art, an art of invention and technology that delights with its beauty:

I believe that one reason why the late 19th century and early 20th century was so full of beautiful inventions was that the culture celebrated inventions and the glory of science. I sure wish culture would take a turn back to those days. We need a kickstart to a better tomorrow.

McDonald's Shows Its "Values"

Sadly. McDonald's is more concerned about repressing facts and maintaining a synthetic "image" than in letting truth be told. They fired an employee for releasing a video of a savage beating in a McDonald's restaurant. Obviously McDonald's policy is: pretend that their restaurants are a haven from the real world with McFood as a synthetic substitute for reality.

Here is a bit from an article by Maureen Dowd in the NY Times. I've bolded the key bit:
April is the cruelest month for Chrissy Lee Polis.

The 22-year-old stopped by the Rosedale, Md., McDonald’s, just east of Baltimore, last week.

Two patrons, an 18-year-old woman named Teonna Monae Brown and a 14-year-old girl, seemed to come out of nowhere and began ferally assaulting Polis.

The savage pair may have been disturbed at the prospect that Polis was transgender. “They said, ‘That’s a dude. That’s a dude. And she’s in the female bathroom,’ ” Polis told The Baltimore Sun.

The attackers spit on her, threw her on the floor, kicked her in the face and back, punched her in the nose, ripped her earrings out of her earlobes, dragged her by her hair across the restaurant and only stopped when she began to have an epileptic seizure and an older woman in a white track suit intervened.

A McDonald’s employee, who captured it all on his cellphone, was fired after his video went viral on YouTube.
Baltimore is the scene of multiple crimes:
  • Sexual bigots savagely attack a transgendered woman because they didn't personally approve of this "lifestyle". (I'm waiting for people with perms and hair colouring to be beaten to a pulp by the Puritans who think this kind of cosmetic alteration insults God. In the good old days this got you into the stocks and I'm sure some are ready to put the offenders on faggots and set them afire so that the smoke of the offering can loft up to the heavens and please a most jealous God.)

  • The good people of Baltimore who "witnessed" the assault acted more like Romans at the Coliseum watching a gladiatorial fight or Christians being fed to the lions. I'm surprised that the news report didn't identify whether the onlookers offered a thumbs up or thumbs down for the vicious beating.

  • McDonald's management tops the list of infamy by deciding that fiction is more real at McDonalds that truth. If you dare show something inside their restaurant that undermines the corporate "image" you get fired. Truth be damned. It is the burnished image that counts.
I find this bit comical:
The suspects have been charged with assault and the Baltimore County state’s attorney office is determining whether it classifies as a hate crime.
I wonder what qualifies as a "hate" crime in this county if this beating doesn't. I can only guess that Baltimore county officials are "hard at work" trying to figure out what "policy position" they should take. On the one hand you have bigots beating somebody to a bloody pulp. But on the other hand, I guess there are just so many transgendered beatings in this county that it is hard to decide if this one is "special" and should be treated as a hate crime, or is just one of any number of run-of-the-mill beat the gays, beat the transgendered, beat the mentally retarded, beat the blacks, beat the foreigner, beat the homeless crimes that go on in that blighted part of the world. It must be tough to pick out "hate" crimes when you have so many to choose from. Right?

The good news from Maryland is that this story helps announce "open season" on beatings:
A week before the attack, Maryland’s Senate shelved a measure extending anti-discrimination protections to people who openly change their gender identity even though, as The Sun editorialized, “It would have sent a powerful signal that transgender people are not fair game for bigots.”
Wonderful. The legislators in Maryland have decided that it is discrimination if you beat up the handicapped and mentally retarded or the homeless, but it isn't a crime if you beat up the transgendered. I guess that since Michael Vick is out of the dog fighting business, maybe the more "progressive" elements of the Baltimore business community figure they can attract tourists to watch the transgendered beatings. Maybe move these from McDonald's to a bigger arena, sell tickets, and put Baltimore on the map as a tourist "destination" for non-hate crime beatings. I can see that the legislators are going to be busy trying to figure out that since transgendered beatings don't qualify as a "hate" crime, what else can they add to the mix to make for a more exciting offering to attract tourists. Maybe beatings for midgets or fly in Finns from Europe that can be put into a ring and beaten to a pulp to excite the tourists. The possibilities are endless!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Excellent Article on Paul Krugman

The New York Magazine has an excellent article about Paul Krugman written by Benjamin Wallace-Wells that starts:
If you are looking not only for clues into Barack Obama’s character but for a definition of what his presidency will mean to the country, then the speech on fiscal policy that he delivered at George Washington University the Wednesday before last is the most significant one he has ever given. It is, in its own way, an astonishing document, alive with the themes that undergirded his Philadelphia speech on race and his Nobel Prize acceptance, on the tragic enmeshment of American limitations and American strength. Obama was responding mostly to the Republican budget plan, and he understood exactly what its author, Representative Paul Ryan, had in his sights: “This vision,” Obama said, “is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.”

And yet, having defined the fight so starkly, Obama delivered a plea for compromise. He ended a stirring defense of the welfare state by explaining his plans to gut it. Then he said that even this proposed $2 trillion cut in government spending was only a starting point for negotiation: “I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today,” he said. “This is a democracy; that’s not how things work.” There were notes of deference, and passivity: If Obama believed that his vision of society was at stake, why place it so squarely on the partisan bargaining table—or why not at least begin with a stronger gambit? This was, at any rate, the point of view of one particular strain of liberal reaction, whose position was summed up with poignant resignation by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “I could live with this as an end result,” he wrote. “If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no.”

For the first two years of the Obama administration, Krugman has been building, in his columns and on his blog, not just a critique of this presidency but something grander and more expansively detailed, something closer to an alternate architecture for what Obamaism might be. The project has remade Krugman’s public image, as if he had spent years becoming a chemically isolate form of himself—first a moderate, then an anti-Bush partisan, and now the leading exponent of a kind of liberal purism against which the compromises of the White House might be judged. Krugman’s counterfactual Obama would have provided far more stimulus money and would have nationalized Citigroup and Bank of America. He would have written off Republicans and worked only with Democrats to fashion a health-care reform bill that included a so-called public option. The president of Krugman’s dreams would have made his singular long-term goal the preservation of the welfare state and the middle-class society it was designed to create.

This purism is not a role Krugman is altogether comfortable with, but it is one he has sought: His blog is titled The Conscience of a Liberal. He uses it as a kind of workroom for his column, and it is now, according to Technorati, the most popular single-author blog online—a more statistically rigorous counterpart to Rachel Maddow’s show and the Huffington Post. The comment section has become a repository for a certain form of liberal anguish, and a community unto itself: “His campaign promised a better, more equitable America. Those who believed him feel betrayed,” wrote one commenter in regard to a recent column titled “The President Is Missing.”And another: “Come on, Professor Krugman, will you lead the people out?”
Go read the whole article.

I view Krugman as the modern equivalent of those old Israelite prophets. His message is unpopular, but it is the voice of Truth and Justice. Sadly the people would rather chase after their false gods of Money and political Ideology. Nobody expects the Hand of God to come crashing down to punish the stiff-necked people, but I'm pretty sure that the current path of US politics will lead to a crack-up and crash in the society. The best days of America are behind her because she is unwilling to face up to the terrible path the country is on. That is a "Hand" of something which will sweep across the country and bring the high and proud down to punish them for their stiff-neck refusal to hear the plea for justice and greater social equity.

This bit from the article is very poignant:
You could see something else in the data, too. From 1979 to 2004, the income of the richest one percent of Americans grew by 176 percent, that of the richest one fifth of the country by 69 percent, and that of everyone else by less than 25 percent. Working through the numbers, Krugman came to believe that “only a fraction” of the change was compelled by global forces, which had been the standard explanation. The rest, he concluded, was political.

It was Krugman’s Princeton colleague Larry Bartels who made the critical connection, in research Krugman devoured and still cites. Perhaps the most important influence on income inequality, Bartels argued, was something economists had not ­emphasized: whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House. Since World War II, Bartels found, wealthy families in the 95th percentile in income had seen identical income growth under both parties. But for families in the 20th percentile, the difference was astonishing: Under Democratic presidents, their income grew at six times the rate it did under Republican ones. There was, for Krugman, a kind of radicalization implied in this.
What worries me is that the greed of the wealthy and powerful will cause a class war to break out as the last ditch attempt of the dispossessed to get a fair shake in the society. Don't expect this to break out during the Great Recession. No. It will come when the economy rebounds, when people once again feel a chance for a better life, but see it being snatched from them -- yet again -- by the wealthy and powerful. This kind of rising up of the downtrodden occurs when there is hope but those at the bottom see their chances being taken away from them.

The political divide in the US is the most bitter since the divide prior to the American Civil War. When I hear Republicans say that they will refuse to increase the debt limit unless Obama agrees to the cuts they demand, this strikes me as the same absolutist stands that the Southerners took on the issue of extending slavery into the new territories. The lack of real compromise (and a path into the future) is what brought about that great war and all that bloodshed.

Jolly Green Giant?

Here is a bit from a Washington Post article by Bjorn Lomborg that questions the myth that China is the leading actor in a "green future" for planet earth:
China was responsible for half of the world’s production of solar panels in 2010, but only 1 percent was installed there. Just as China produces everything from trinkets to supertankers, it is exporting green technology — which makes it a giant of manufacturing, not of environmental friendliness.

In wind power, China both produces and consumes. In 2009, it put up about a third of the world’s new wind turbines. But much of this has been for show. A 2008 Citigroup analysis found that about one-third of China’s wind power assets were not in use. Many turbines are not connected to the transmission grid. Chinese power companies built wind turbines that they didn’t use as the cheapest way of satisfying — on paper — government requirements to boost renewable energy capacity.

Consider the bigger picture: 87 percent of the energy produced in China comes from fossil fuels, the vast majority of it from coal, the International Energy Agency found in 2010.
Go read the whole article.

I liked Bjorn Lomborg's original stance on "global warming". He was a pragmatist calling for a rational trade off between the expenses of a "precautionary principle" and the very real benefits of money spent on more pressing issues for humanity. He questioned the real costs of warming. He didn't waste much time arguing about the "settled science" of global warming. He should have been the consensus winner, but he wasn't. Lately he has drifted more into the hysterial global warming camp. From Wikipedia:
In August 2010, Lomborg appeared to reverse his position on global warming in an interview with the Guardian. He revealed that he endorses the use of a carbon tax to fight climate change in his latest book.
I think he has lost his way and given into the seductions of being on the "winning" side. The science isn't settled and as I shiver through a La Niña year on the Pacific West Coast I can assure you things are colder here and no "global warming" is in evidence. I remember in the early 1980s when I bought my first house going out to the dykes wondering if they would hold as earth grew warmer and the rising sea level from global warming would overtop them. The extremist were telling me that by 2000 at the latest my house would be subject to flooding as high tides overtopped the dykes. Well, the dykes were never raised and global sea levels are up a couple of centimeters instead of the metre promised by the diehard crazies.

The above article by Lomborg is good because it underlines that you can't take things at face value. You have to nose around and look beyond the headlines, look past the screaming fanatics on left and right, you need to use your own intelligence to understand the world and come up with your own strategy. If everybody independently does this, then we will have the diversity of viewpoints and the undertaking of a multitude of different strategies which will give us the necessary depth of options and alternatives needed to deal with whatever the future throws at us.

Real danger comes when people get on a bandwagen. To use a tired example: look at Germany under Hitler, an advanced country with culture and education marched off a cliff under the guidance of a fanatic. Nobody has truth by the tail. Only if everybody finds their own bit of truth and contributes it to the collective whole do we have a real chance of having the tools to deal with what will be thrown at us. Strength in number, strength in diversity in depth, strength through democracy and individual choice.

Oil's Future

Here are some bits from a WSJ interview with the CEO of Chevron:
The Chevron CEO is a rare breed these days: an unapologetic oil man. For decades—going back to Jimmy Carter—politicians have been peddling an America free of fossil fuels. Mr. Obama has taken that to an unprecedented level, closing off more acreage to drilling, pouring money into green energy, pushing new oil company taxes, instituting anticarbon regulations. America is going backward on affordable energy, even as oil hits $110 a barrel.

Enter the tall, bespectacled Mr. Watson, who a little more than a year ago stepped into the shoes of longtime CEO David O'Reilly. An economist by training, soft-spoken by nature, the 53-year-old Mr. Watson is hardly some swaggering wildcatter. Yet in a year of speeches, he has emerged as one of the industry's foremost energy realists. No "Beyond Petroleum" (BP) for him. On energy, he says, America "has a lot to learn."

Starting with the argument—so popular among greens and Democrats—that we are running out of oil. "Peak oil"—the theory that global oil production will soon hit maximum levels and begin to decline—is a favorite among this crowd, and it is one basis for their call for more biofuels and solar power. Mr. Watson doesn't dismiss the idea but explains why it remains largely irrelevant.

In theory, he says, "we've been running out of oil and gas for a long time," yet technology creates new opportunities. Mr. Watson cites a Chevron field long in decline down the road in Bakersfield—to the point that for every 100 barrels of oil "in place," the company was extracting only 10 or 20. But thanks to a new technology called steam flooding, Chevron is now getting 70 to 80 barrels. "Price creates incentive, and energy will be developed if there's demand for it at the price you can develop it," Mr. Watson says. In that sense, "oil and gas are plentiful."

Don't believe it? Over the past 30 years, even as "peak oil" was a trendy theme, the world's proven reserves of oil and natural gas increased 130%, to 2.5 trillion barrels.

Or consider America's latest energy innovation: hydrofracking for abundant and cheap natural gas. This advance, says Mr. Watson, took even the industry "by surprise"—as evidenced by the many U.S. ports to import liquid natural gas that are now "sitting idle." Chevron last year paid $3.2 billion to buy natural-gas producer Atlas Energy as its foray into this new market.

Mr. Watson has little time for the Beltway fiction that America will soon be able to do without, or nearly without, fossil fuels. Yes, "we need all forms of energy." But the world consumes 250 million barrels of energy equivalent today, only a "tiny fraction of which" is wind and solar—and even those "are not affordable at scale," he says.

As for biofuels, "we would need to consume land the size of states" to hit the country's current ethanol targets. Chevron is investigating biofuels, but Mr. Watson says the "economics aren't there" yet. Unlike many CEOs, Mr. Watson insists on products that can prosper without federal subsidies, which he believes are costly and lacking in transparency when "consumer pockets are tight, government pockets are tight."

Bottom line: "We're going to need oil and gas and coal for a long time if America wants to keep the lights on."


But what about the BP Gulf spill? Mr. Watson blames the "cultural aspects and behavioral aspects" of the particular drilling rig that exploded. He roundly disagrees with the finding of Mr. Obama's spill commission that the "root causes" of the spill were "systemic" to the industry.

"There is no evidence to support that. I don't know how that conclusion was reached. I know the industry has drilled 14,000 deep water wells without having this sort of problem." As for the moratorium, "I can understand taking a pause. I can't understand shutting down a whole industry for a better part of a year."

Chevron has three deep water rigs in the Gulf, so the ban cost it millions of dollars in idle rigs and lost jobs. For the country, says Mr. Watson, it means "less oil." Offshore drilling takes years of lead time. Mr. Watson cites Chevron's Gulf "Tahiti" project, which started producing about 18 months ago. It has taken "the better part of a decade to do the seismic work, drill the exploratory wells, evaluate those wells, drill other development wells, to delineate it, to build the facilities and to place the oil wells online," he explains.

The endless moratorium has already meant that "if you go out to the middle of the decade, there are already 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day of oil that aren't going to be produced that year. . . . That won't be retrieved." And the lost production number is getting larger, since the new Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management is still dallying on permits—and those primarily for backlogged projects, not new leases.

Democrats are now arguing, as Mr. Obama did in his speech, that the oil industry already "holds tens of millions of acres of leases where it's not producing a drop." Some are advocating "use it or lose it," calling for the government to strip oil companies of their leases if they don't immediately start producing.

Mr. Watson explains why this is bogus. Only one-third of Chevron's offshore leases are classified as "producing" oil and gas today. The other two-thirds either are "unsuccessful" (they don't hold viable oil or gas) or "are in varying stages of development—seismic work, drilling wells, constructing facilities." Mr. Watson says companies would be crazy to sit on productive lands, since leases require costly bonus payments and annual rental payments to the government.

If Washington institutes Mr. Obama's "use it or lose it" policy, Mr. Watson says, it will mean less U.S. oil production. And how does this help Mr. Obama with his goal of reducing imported oil?

As for soaring oil prices, Mr. Watson blames growing demand, tighter supply, Mideast uncertainty and inflation. He doesn't predict future price trends, though during a recent analyst call he warned that the drilling moratorium would only make them higher. Lost production in the Gulf is "going to represent a sizable chunk of the spare capacity that the industry expects to see. And that will impact prices, and that will retard economic growth."

The economy is also why Mr. Watson won't pay the usual energy CEO lip service to new carbon regulations. The cap-and-trade bill the House passed in 2009 was "poorly conceived and it collapsed under its own weight for good reason," he notes.

The EPA move to regulate carbon is no better: "It's not why the Clean Air Act was put in place, and it doesn't seem to be the right way to attack concerns about greenhouse gas emissions," he says. The EPA is "placing huge new regulatory burdens on industries that are import sensitive." The regulations will place burdens on refineries, putting "their competitiveness at risk, and ultimately we'll produce less gasoline here and end up importing it from refineries that are less energy efficient overseas."
There is more material in the WSJ article. Go read the whole thing.

I got a chuckle out of my father who during the 1970s "oil shortage" told me that when he was a kid in the 1920s the schools taught him that America would "soon run out of oil". It will. But not in my lifetime and probably not during the 21st century. Definitely by the early 22nd century oil will be mostly gone, but there will still be lots of coal and lots of methane clathrate waiting to be "produced" and used as an energy source. The CEO of Chevron said there was 2.5 trillion of known oil reserves. I think he is undercounting. Canada alone has over 1 trillion barrels of oil sands. The far north of Canada has not been explored and the Russians are getting very nationalistic and aggressive in the Arctic ocean because there will probably be several trillion barrels of oil there waiting to be produced.

Since I think the "dangers" of global warming are based on bad models that over-estimate the greenhouse effect of CO2 and under-estimate the other feedback loops in dynamic weather, I'm not as concerned as most with the exploitation of all this oil. But it if does prove to be a problem, within a decade a crash program could shift 80% of energy over to nuclear reactors with all personal transportation shifted to electricity and not fossil fuel (saving the fossil fuel for long haul transportation).

I'm a pessimistic optimist. I think technology holds lots of promise. But I'm realistic enough to know that humans will mostly try to dodge the tough choices as long and hard as possible and create all kinds of crises before the every "solve" the energy crisis or get on top of "global warming". It is like democracy. Democracy is well understood to be the worst possible form of government, except that all the other choices are in fact far worse. Humanity will muddle through. That's my pessimistic optimism speaking.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Inequalities in Income, Health, and Opportunity

Here is Ed Broadbent, a famous leftist Canadian politician, introducing a talk by Richard Wilkinson given in Canada on income inequality:

I like the bits where he explains that life expectancy isn't correlated well with the average income of a country. But it is well correlated with relative income (social status, social position). This underlines that a society works only if everybody feels like they "belong" and a valued reasonably well compared to others.

I like the quip: "If Americans want to live the American dream, they should move to Denmark or Finland." Those are societies where greater equality means that the offspring of the poor have a better chance to improve their income, status, health, etc. Those societies have greater social mobility.

The Debt & Deficit Story

Here's a nice post by Dean Baker setting the record straight in the midst of all the hysteria about the US's debt and deficit:
Steven Pearlstein did his part for the Wall Street crusade to get people to surrender their Social Security and Medicare. He warned readers that if we don't follow the Wall Street deficit reduction agenda, the dollar could enter a free fall.I would say that this is one of the silliest things the paper has ever published, but this is the Washington Post that we are talking about.

Anyhow, let's put on our thinking caps and try to envisions what Pearlstein's scare story would look like. Currently, the euro is equal to around 1.45 dollars, there are approximately 6.5 yuan to a dollar and around 80 yen. Suppose we don't follow the Wall Streeters wishes. Will the dollar fall to 3 to a euro, will it only be worth 3.5 yuan and 40 yen?

Does anyone think this story is plausible? We supposedly have been begging China to raise the value of its currency by 20 percent, is China's leadership suddenly going to sit back and let the yuan rise by 100 percent? What happens to China's export market in this story? The same is case for our other trading partners. Europe will lose its export market in the U.S. and suddenly U.S. made goods would be hyper-competitive in its domestic market. Japan, Canada and everyone else would face the same situation.

These countries will not allow their economies to be destroyed by the loss of the U.S. export market and a surge of imports from the United States. They will undoubtedly take steps to stop and reverse any free fall of the dollar, if we did begin to see it.

In other words Pearlstein and the others are peddling total nonsense when they try to push this scare story. The bottom line is that they want to cut benefits to the middle class. They don't have a good story to sell a policy that will be harmful to large segments of the population, especially when the Peter Petersons of the world are making out like bandits. So they make stuff up.

As every economist knows the story of our deficit in the short-term is the downturn created by the collapse of the housing bubble. The deficit is propping up the economy following the loss of $1.2 trillion in private sector demand.

The deficit story in the long-term is health care. Our health care system is out of control. Fixing health care would end the deficit problem, but this would reduce the income of the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industy and other powerful interest groups. So, the Washington Post would rather just see people go without health care. Hey, someone's got to pay.
To get the embedded links, go read the original post.

The reality is that if the US government didn't sustain a deficit right now, the Great Recession would be the Great Depression II. But nobody in the debate is willing to admit to that. Instead, they scare up the bogeyman to ensure that deep-pocketed interest groups come out of this mess with their pockets full while most Americans have their pockets picked, yet again, by those with the politician's ears.

Here is a post by the economist Mark Thoma that lays bare the truth about corrupted politics:
Jon Faust of Johns Hopkins Center for Financial Economics:
Reject Greenspan’s Bleak Vision, by Jon Faust: Alan Greenspan recently argued in the FT that the Dodd Frank Act fails to meet the test of our times. In defense of this view, Greenspan paints a disturbing view of the modern world as a financial dystopia in which humans are at the mercy of a financial machine they have built but can no longer hope to manage. Greenspan argues,
The problem is that regulators, and for that matter everyone else, can never get more than a glimpse at the internal workings of the simplest of modern financial systems. ... With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.
... Greenspan’s bleak vision, like Orwell’s before him, may prove correct. My view is that the financial crisis was not a sad by-product of modernity but rather a new episode in a very old story: systems that allow risk taking and innovation are inherently subject to periodic crises. We can surely avoid another crisis by outlawing all risk taking. The alternative is to strive provide a stable backdrop in which productive risk taking can flourish. The history of progress financial progress has, arguably, been one of generally increasing stability -- in economies where development has been allowed to occur -- supported by an evolving system of market and political institutions, laws and regulations.

Greenspan is right that the Dodd Frank Act, like every hasty response to upheaval, is grossly imperfect. The Patriot Act comes to mind. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was itself a crisis response and was substantially modified over more than 20 years before reaching the form we recognize today.

We should continue the job of reform and not surrender to Greenspan’s dystopian vision.
Greenspan is yesterday's news, and the substance of what he says won't have much impact on policy. But what he is arguing is notable because it represents a common point of view that Dodd-Frank will do little except reduce economic growth and, to the extent possible, it should be reversed.

And the financial industry is taking advantage of this. While our attention is diverted to other matters, e.g. protecting social insurance from the latest onslaught from the right, the financial industry is quietly -- and in many cases successfully -- pushing to ease the restrictions in Dodd-Frank (you can track changes to Dodd-Frank here). Too many people still believe that anything that's good for the bottom line in the financial sector is good for America despite recent evidence to the contrary.

I don't think we'll ever be able to completely prevent crises, but we can reduce the damage that a crisis can do, and we can make crises rarer than they've been recently. However, that requires doing things that the financial industry does not like. With both parties dependent upon financial industry money to fund their reelection campaigns, and with so much of this under the public's radar, it's not at all clear that Congress will take the steps that need to be taken, or even hold the line on the regulations that are already in place.
Go read the original post to get the embedded links.