Monday, December 07, 2009

This is Not Your FDR's Federal Government.

My father was the head of a trade association for the heavy construction industry, and most of my closest relatives either work for the government, or have done so in the past. As you can imagine, over my lifetime I've had a lot of conversations about government procedure and government projects. Every so often I'll read some description of a project out of the olden days--the battle against malaria in Panama, the handling of the Great Mississippi Flood, or the creation of the WPA--and just marvel at how fast everything used to be. The WPA was authorized in April of 1935. By December, it was employing 3.5 million people. The Hoover Dam took 16 years from the time it was first proposed, to completion; eight years, if you start counting from the time it passed Congress.

Contrast this with a current, comparatively trivial project: it has been seventeen years since the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor was established by USDOT, and we should have a Record of Decision on the Tier II environmental impact statement no later than 2010. This for something that runs along existing rail rights of way, and in fact, uses currently operating track in many places.


John Brown Dead, Slavery Marches On.

We like to think that our world is making progress, that as humanity develops technologically and economically we are also developing morally and socially. The rise of the new slave trade challenges that easy, comfortable assumption. True, slavery is not as economically important today as it was in the nineteenth century when the slave-dependent cotton industry provided cheap raw materials for the cutting edge textile factories that led the Industrial Revolution. And it is also true that while there are more slaves today than ever before in world history, the percentage of the world’s population held in slavery seems to be in long term decline.

But slavery today is by some measures more brutal and more soul destroying than it was in the past. The brothel industry in particular, subjecting millions of young women and children to repeated multiple rapes night after night for years at a time, is organized on a far larger and more extensive scale than it was in the past — and slaves make this industry possible.

Climategate – it ain’t just about the weather.

That is why Climategate is so important. It is the Watergate of our times that has, if anything, more ramifications than the original, which largely affected just Richard Nixon and his immediate coterie. It is – to choose an in this case wildly ironic cliché – the tip of an iceberg. This iceberg does not definitively disprove the possibility of man’s influence on global warming (or cooling, for that matter). Anyone who says that is almost as irresponsible as those who say AGW is “settled science.” Well, not quite. But the scandal has changed the game in the crucial area of information flow and has forced the media and politicians to confront, at least for the moment, the issue of transparency.

Transparency, however, is not just about the issue of global warming. It is about myriad issues in our society, including healthcare, the economy with its attendant stimulus plans and education, to pick just a few that come immediately to mind. Indeed it affects practically everything. Transparency is, again ironically, like the weather – the thing that everybody talks about but nobody does a thing about. Our President promised it, others pay lip service to it, but no one does it.


Here's some of the back and forth we had on this on Facebook today.

Salvatore Reda
Global warming Is a myth! What is really happening is that earths magnetic field is getting weaker.

Matthew V. Topic
I find these attempts to dispute the existence of global warming utterly terrifying.

Michael Stajduhar
Based upon your extensive background as a climate researcher? Or are you taking it on faith that the scientists who we now know smeared dissenters as well as hiding and destroying evidence, wouldn’t lie to you? Climategate is far from a slam dunk for the "there is no global warming" crowd. But at the very least, reasonable people should catch their breath and be a little skeptical. We should be that way with all things actually. We should look at the evidence and ask are there other possible interpretations of this data set. The case for Global Warming boils down to this:... See More... See More1) It's getting hotter2) The rise in temperatures is historically unusual.3) If it keeps getting hotter at this rate the impact on the world will be catastrophic.4) Most or all of the warming is caused by man5) With sacrifices we can stop or even reverse it.A very large number of people have grave reservations about any number of these propositions. Trying to demonize them isn’t defending settled science (there is no such thing). It’s attacking free thought. Until Climategate 2-5 seemed very much open to question. It was for example much hotter in the middle ages than even the worst predictions for today's global warming. The world didn't end and it probably wasn't caused by cars...since they didn't have any. Most likely the warm period was caused by increased solar activity...just like what we saw for most of the 20th century. Odd coincidence that. As to claim #1 we now have actual evidence of data manipulation, tossing out of raw data so no one else can check it and other shenanigans. Frankly before we decide to destroy the global economy in the name of Mother Earth, I'd like to see a’s the word...oh yeah, proof.about a minute ago ·

Matthew V. Topic
Your analysis fails to account for the differences in risk between (1) incorrectly concluding that human-caused or human-worsened climate change exists, and (2) incorrectly concluding that it does not exist. Seems to me that there is plenty of evidence raising at least a real possibility that it exists. Maybe that evidence is wrong. But I'd much... See More, much, much rather us be a (1) than a (2), and as each year passes with no significant action, we both increase to cost of correcting (2) and decrease the possibility of even being able to fix it if we want. We lack the luxury of awaiting the level of "proof" the deniers insist upon. A better analysis is to say that until it is proven that carbon emissions DON'T cause global warming, we should contain the emissions. Why is the burden of proof placed on the assessment that actually tries to avert the worse outcome? And re smearing, the Bush administration removed the gloves long ago, so it's too late to complain about the rules of engagement, right or wrong. Finally, prove to me that the global economy would be "destroyed."

Michael Stajduhar
Well the levels of taxation being proposed, coupled with increased regulatory burdens on industry amount to a hit on peoples personal standard of living of roughly 50%. Obviously these burdens will be shared unequally. Cyber-savvy law school types like ourselves will probably do ok. Coal miners, not so much. In any case a whole bunch of people will be a lot poorer...forever. With regard to burdens of proof, in science extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I suppose reasonable people can disagree about whether "there is no global warming" is more outlandish than "global warming is gonna kill us all if we don't do X by Y date". Rather than remind you that in 1979 Global Cooling was being called "settled science" I'll simply say that those claiming that doom is imminent are the ones demanding sacrifices therefore the burden of proof rests with them. There can be no other reasonable rule. If I were to say "The Vogons are going to destroy Earth with their death ray...unless you give me $200.00" (please note I am not suggesting the Vogons are about to destroy evil space aliens go, they seem pretty nice). Here we have the possibility of extraordinary harm to the Earth and everyone on it, which can be mitigated by you pay a modest amount of extortion...I mean "Green Lifestyle Fee". Sure maybe the Vogons won't blow up the Earth, maybe they don't even exist...but maybe they do! How can you be so selfish and not want to protect the whole world for a measly $200.00? Surely since the risk of harm from a Vogon attack is so great the burden is on you to prove they don't exist, thus obviating the need for protection money.... See MoreIf you represent Amce Corp, major producer of widgets and you get a call from someone who says "Your widgets gave me cancer", I'd imagine that one of the questions you want to ask the plaintiff is "do you have any evidence that widgets cause cancer?". I also imagine that you be kinda frustrated if the response was "can you prove they don't?". As for the Bush administration politicizing science, while I'm not a huge fan the charge mostly arises from their failure to muzzle or fire people who...ummm...are not entirely convinced global warming is going to kill us all.

Matthew V. Topic
If there are some credible experts who believe that there is a non-trivial chance that Vogons actually exist and have the capability to destroy us, we should pay the $200. Therein lies the distinction between the climate debate and your analogy. Your widget/cancer analogy is completely off the mark as there are no plaintffs or defendants in the ... See Moreclimate policy debate. A better analogy would be whether the consumer product safety commission should require safety measure on widgets that a consensus of scientists believe are likely to cause cancer. There's no 100% certainty that lead paint will hurt my children, but I still don't want in my kids' toys.Do you really contend there is no evidence supporting the claim that humans are contributing to global warming? I thought the argument was that it hasn't been sufficiently proven, which is something else entirely. And I fail to see why the status quo of carbon free-for-all is entitled to a presumption of correctness simply because it's tradition.What's your source for a 50% reduction in standard of living? And does it include an offset for the increase in the standard of living amongst the poorest people of the world, the ones which are believed likely to suffer the greatest harm from global warming? I'll even let you discount that by a reasonable percentage of likelihood that global warming doesn't exist (let's say 50% to make it easy).

Maxx Goff
Coterie, isn't that the guy in charge of walking people to a table in a high end joint?

The Architect as Totalitarian.

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform. In one sense, he had less excuse for his activities than Pol Pot: for unlike the Cambodian, he possessed great talent, even genius. Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy.

Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.

The great climate change science scandal.

THE hacking scandal is not an isolated event. Instead it is the latest round of a long-running battle over climate science that goes back to 1990.

That was when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the group of scientists that advises governments worldwide — published its first set of reports warning that the Earth faced deadly danger from climate change. A centrepiece of that report was a set of data showing how the temperature of the northern hemisphere was rising rapidly.

The problem was that the same figures showed that it had all happened before. The so-called medieval warm period of about 1,000 years ago saw Britain covered in vineyards and Viking farmers tending cows in Greenland. For any good scientist this raised a big question: was the recent warming linked to humans burning fossil fuels or was it part of a natural cycle?

More here.

Prehistoric Barbie

Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Sir:
Thank you for your latest submission, labeled "93211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post...Hominid skull." We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago. Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety that one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be "Malibu Barbie." It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings. However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of the specimen which might have tipped you off to its modern origin:

1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.

2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified proto-homonids.

3. The dentition pattern evident on the skull is more consistent with the common domesticated dog than it is with the ravenous man-eating Pliocene Clams you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time.

Probably just an urban legend but more here.

The Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody

Climategate Who's Who.