Archive for July 2007

The Pepsi Challenge

Many of us remember the old Pepsi challenge commercials, where blind taste tests vs. Coke showed people preferring Pepsi.  One of the interesting results of these commercials was that Pepsi gained market share, but Coke did not lose it -- much of the Pepsi market share gain came from other brands.  In essence, the commercials established in consumer's minds that the cola choice was Coke or Pepsi, and so it did as much for Coke as it did Pepsi.

So now take this experience to anti-smoking commercials.  It turns out that they may backfire:

The more anti-smoking ads middle schoolers see, the more likely they are to smoke, according to a study in the August issue of Communication Research.
Hye-Jin Paek, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's
College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Albert Gunther, a
professor of life sciences communication at the University of
Wisconsin at Madison, analyzed data from surveys that asked middle
school students about their exposure to anti-smoking messages and their
intention to smoke:

They found that, overall, the
more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more
inclined they were to smoke. The exception"”where exposure to
anti-smoking ads correlated with a reduced intention to smoke"”occurred
among students who said their friends were influenced by anti-smoking

In the context of other advertising research, such as the old Coke/Pepsi campaign, this is not surprising.  It is even less surprising for this type of ad, where a certain amount of anti-authoritarian response can be expected.  In fact, I have seen a number of ads that use this anti-authoritarian streak and distrust of the government as a feature.  Ads that say "The government doesn't want you to know about X" or "What the oil companies don't want you to know."

I wonder when the first member of the plaintiff's bar will initiate a lawsuit against the tobacco companies for promoting teenage smoking by running... anti-smoking ads.

Contributing to Science

I got to make a real contribution to science this weekend, and I will explain below how you can too.  First, some background.

A while back, Steve McIntyre was playing around with graphing temperature data form the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN).  This is the data that is used in most global warming studies and initializes most climate models.  Every climate station is not in this data base - in fact, only about 20 per state are in the data base, with locations supposedly selected in rural areas less subject to biases over time from urban development (urban areas are hotter, due to pavement and energy use, for reasons unrelated to the greenhouse effect).  The crosses below on the map show each station.

He showed this graph, of the USHCN data for temperature change since 1900 (data corrected for time of day of measurement).  Redder shows measured temperatures have increased since 1900, bluer means they have decreased.

He mentioned that Tucson was the number one warming site -- you can see it in the deepest red.  My first thought was, "wow, that is right next door to me."   My second thought was "how can Tucson, with a million people, count as rural?"   Scientists who study global warming apply all kinds of computer and statistical tricks to this data, supposedly to weed out measurement biases and problems.  However, a number of folks have been arguing that scientists really need to evaluate biases site by site.  Anthony Watts has taken this idea and created, a site dedicated to surveying and photographing these official USHCN stations.

So, with his guidance, I went down to Tucson to see for myself.  My full report is here, but this is what I found:

The measurement station is in the middle of an asphalt parking lot!  This is against all best practices, and even a layman can see how that would bias measurements high.  Watts finds other problems with the installation from my pictures that I missed, and comments here that it is the worst station he has seen yet.  That, by the way, is the great part about this exercise.  Amateurs like me don't need to be able to judge the installation, they just need to take good pictures that the experts can use to analyze problems.

As a final note on Tucson, during the time period between 1950 and today, when Tucson saw most of this measured temperature increase, the population of Tucson increased from under 200,000 to over 1,000,000.  That's a lot of extra urban heat, in addition to the local effects of this parking lot.

The way that scientists test for anomalies without actually visiting or looking at the sites is to do some statistical checks against other nearby sites.  Two such sites are Mesa and Wickenburg.  Mesa immediately set off alarm bells for me.  Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix, and is often listed among the fastest growing cities in the country.  Sure enough, the Mesa temperature measurements were discontinued in the late 1980's, but surely were biased upwards by urban growth up to that time.

So, I then went to visit Wickenburg.  Though is has been growing of late, Wickenburg would still be considered by most to be a small town.  So perhaps the Wickenburg measurement is without bias?  Well, here is the site:


That white coffee can looking thing on a pole in the center is the temperature instrument.  Again, we have it surrounded by a sea of black asphalt, but we also have two building walls that reflect heat onto the instrument.  Specs for the USHCN say that instruments should be installed in an open area away from buildings and on natural ground.  Oops.  Oh, and by the way, lets look the other direction...


What are those silver things just behind the unit?  They are the cooling fans for the building's AC.  Basically, all the heat from the building removed by the AC gets dumped out about 25 feet from this temperature measurement.

Remember, these are the few select stations being used to determine how much global warming the US is experiencing.  Pretty scary.  Another example is here.

Believe it or not, for all the work and money spent on global warming, this is something that no one had done -- actually go document these sites to check their quality and potential biases.  And you too can have the satisfaction of contributing to science.  All you need is a camera (a GPS of some sort is also helpful).  I wrote a post with instructions on how to find temperature stations near you and how to document them for science here.

For those interested, my paper on the skeptics' arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming is here.  If that is too long, the 60-second climate skeptic pitch is here.

What the Chamber of Commerce Forgot to Say

Somehow, it never is mentioned in the Phoenix promotional literature that it occasionally rains mud here.  Below is my car, which I parked outside at night in a very clean condition.  Behold it in the morning:

No, it did not get stolen and taken out four-wheeling  (for some reason, teenage kids don't seem to steal Volvo's to go hot-rodding around -- go figure).  This is a result of the rainstorm last night.  What happens is we get big winds that whip up a lot of dirt in the air, so we get this really nice dust cloud.  Then it rains, with the water pulling the dirt out of the air and depositing it on the car.  Because the rain does not last long, the dirt stays on the car.  Instant mess.

Offset Sellers Only Double-Dipping?

From Steven Malloy:

began investigating the carbon offset industry this week. The inquiry
could produce some "inconvenient truths" for Al Gore and the nascent
offset industry.

Carbon offsets ostensibly allow buyers to
expunge their consciences of the new eco-sin of using energy derived
from fossil fuels. Worried about the 8 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
emitted each year by your SUV? Similar to the indulgences offered by
Pope Leo X in the 16th century, you can absolve yourself of sin by
purchasing $96 worth of CO2 offsets "“ typically offered at $12 per ton
of CO2 emitted "“ from offset brokers who, in turn, supposedly use your
cash to pay someone else to produce electricity with low or no CO2

Capitol Hill staffer told me that the congressional inquiry would look
into the possibility of "double-dipping" in the offset industry.

Only double-dipping?  Earlier, I argued that the purveyors of offsets may be triple dipping:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to
    consumers.  Since the
    electricity is often expensive, they sell it as "CO2-free"
    electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas,
    where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the
    carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to
    electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets
    government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being
    "CO2-free".  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless
    investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass
    finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you
    saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people
    to whom they don't have to pay dividends or interest "”just the feel-good
    sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

Let's Not Start a Jihad against ISPs

McQ at QandO posts a number of examples of jihadi websites hosted on American ISPs, and goes on to urge:

If you're doing business with any of these ISPs, you may want to advise
them of your displeasure that your fees are helping support a company
that is hosting websites of avowed enemies of your nation and culture.
Granted, because these are in arabic, the ISPs may not even know what
the sites are, but now you do. Point the ISPs to the MEMRI post. Tell
them that websites which call for the killing of Americans, waging war
against us and teaching radicals how to make bombs are unacceptable.
This is not something which you must wait on government to do. These
sites need to come down and they need to come down because of
grassroots and market pressure to do so. Shut them down.

I have a number of problems with this.  Of course, in a free society, one can choose an ISP any way one likes.  However, given the nature of the Internet, this is one of those suggestions that may sort of feel good but have no chance of having any kind of impact.  Even if wildly successful, all you are going to do is drive these sites to offshore hosts, and I sure hope no one is talking about setting up Chinese-type filters and firewalls at our borders.

Further, there is nothing I like more than having my ISP blissfully ignorant of, and apathetic to, whatever it is they are hosting for me.  I DO NOT want to gear up ISP's to start reviewing and disallowing content.  That is a horribly slippery slope that will only end badly, as we have started to see with video banning at Google and YouTube.  In fact, given the precedents we have seen at YouTube, I would be willing to guess that if ISP's did start** putting a filter on sites and start** banning them based on public complaints, that McQ is not going to be happy be my sense is that their political filters are different than his.  Just look at campuses today -- many universities have defined a new right not to be offended that trumps free speech.  Do we really want to bring this horrible "innovation" to the Internet?

Finally, I think its awesome and what makes America great that we are so tolerant of speech from even the nuttiest of our worst enemies.  I had kind of hoped that GoDaddy would be on his list, just to experience the cultural irony of GoDaddy girl meets fundamentalist Islam.

** Actually, "start" is not the right word, since some undoubtedly kill certain sites when people complain.  Usually but not always today this is based more on irritating Internet behavior (e.g. spamming) rather than content of speech.  It would be more accurate to have said "substantially increase the banning of sites based on content."

Vote For Me Because I Care

How many politicians have you heard say that they care deeply.  I hate politicians who care.  You know why?  Because the way they demonstrate that they care is by using my money against my will to help someone else.  It is a freaking slap in the face every time I hear this.

Now, government employees in Massachusetts are getting a new way to demonstrate they care at taxpayer expense:

A much-hyped program that
gives state workers up to a dozen paid days off per year to "volunteer"
in a wide variety of community activities gives another perk to
employees who already have one of the most generous benefit packages in
the country....

   A Herald analysis
shows that if the 80 employees in the governor's office took full
advantage of the program, the one-year cost would be $217,000. The
taxpayer cost just for Patrick, who makes $140,000, to take all 12 paid
volunteer days would be about $6,400. There are 50,000 state workers
eligible to participate in the program.

the loss of productivity for days off, consider the cost of tasking
other state employees with making sure their co-workers aren't just
extending their weekends," said state GOP spokesman Brian Dodge. "With
bright ideas like this one, the stream of wasted money directly
attributed to Deval Patrick is quickly becoming a raging river."

Its not "volunteering" if you get paid to do it, any more than its "charity" when you give away other people's money.  (HT:  Maggie's Farm)

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Prosecurtorial Abuse

As the DOJ's Corporate Fraud Task Force pats itself on the back for the great job it is doing, Tom Kirkendall rips them up in a scathing rebuttal.  I encourage you to follow the links -- he has great depth on every point he makes.

Out on your ass, Jane Austen

Some frustrated writer apparently submitted a Jane Austin novel to a publisher and had it rejected.  The point being, I guess, that publishers are all screwed up and therefore the author in question can now whine a little louder about his work being rejected.  John Scalzi makes short work of this:

Honestly, you'd think newspapers would be bored of reporting this genre
of stunt by now.
You know, as an aside to this foolishness: If I were an editor today,
and Jane Austen had not previously existed, and someone submitted Pride and Prejudice as a mainstream novel, I'd probably reject it. Because it's the 21st goddamn century,
that's why, and the style is all wrong to sell a whole bunch of them
(even if it were pitched as a mainstream historical novel). In point of
fact, I'd probably reject anything written in a 19th century manner,
with the possible exception of Mark Twain's work; for my money he's
probably the only 19th century author whose writing style doesn't make
me feel like I'm slogging through a morass of commas and odd language

So, yes. Out on your
ass, Jane Austen, until you can write in a contemporary way.

Yes, its a major pain to get published by a top house, and in fact I have yet to be successful, though I honestly think the current book I am writing has a good shot.  But there are lots of reasons a publishing house might reject a perfectly good book:  It may not fit the types of books they publish (you don't send a period piece to a sci-fi house); the publisher's pipeline might be full;  the author's synopsis or the first 30 pages might not be catchy enough (publishers cannot read every word of every submission they get); or the publisher could be missing an opportunity; or the book might, gasp, not be as good as the author thinks it is.

Silver Lining

I have always hated the inevitable posturing during the party presidential conventions that the newly selected vice-presidential candidate would have unprecedented access to the president and that the presidential candidate would reinvent the office of the vice-presidency to take advantage of his running mate's unique skills, blah blah.  Kennedy giving NASA to Johnson not-withstanding, this is mostly face-saving for the vice-presidential candidate, since he or she has typically just been relegated to an appendage of the person they were very recently running against.  Also, there just isn't any Constitutional role for the vice-president short of breaking ties in the Senate and fogging a mirror in case the President dies.

Say what you will about the Bush White House, but I can pretty much gaurantee we are not going to hear much this election cycle about powerful and active future vice-presidents.

Privatizing Public Recreation

A bit over five years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece in our local paper calling for further privatization of public recreation.  The editorial was in response to a proposal for a large bond issue to rebuild recreation infrastructure.  I argued that the state should instead be focusing on attracting private investment.  Not only was there more money for recreation in private hands than public, but I sensed that private funds would more likely be invested in facilities the public really wanted, rather than goofy politically correct projects.  Further, private operators could operate recreation facilities much less expensively, in part because they are not tied to ridiculous public pay scales, pension plans, and job classifications.

Soon after, I had a business broker call me and ask me if I wanted to put my money (such that it was) and time where my mouth was.  After a lot of twists and turns, I ended up the owner of a recreation concession company.  In a recreation concession, a private operator pays the government rent in exchange for the ability to charge visitor fees and run the recreation facility for profit.  In most cases, our company can operate a property and make a profit on fees lower than the government must charge just to break even.

My business, Recreation Resource Management, has prospered since then.  And as I have gotten deeper into public recreation, what I have learned has only confirmed what I wrote in that editorial.  I have seen that when the government runs recreation facilities, it almost never spends enough money on capital maintenance and refurbishment.  The reason seems to be that legislators, given the choice, would much rather spend $X on a shiny new facility they can publicize to their constituents than spend $X maintaining facilities that already exist.  I laugh when I here progressives argue that private industry is too short-term focused and only the government invests for the long-term.  In practice, I find exactly the opposite is true.  Think about hotels, or gas stations, or grocery stores.  Private businesses understand that every 15-20 years, they need to practically rebuild existing infrastructure from scratch to keep them fresh for customers.  This kind of reinvestment almost never happens in public recreation.

Except this week!

After years of building up our business, we just completed a project with California State Parks that is what I have always wanted to achieve with the company.  At McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, California State Parks had an aging concession store and an outdated section of the campground that it really did not have the money to rehabilitate (by the way, this is an absolutely beautiful park -- I highly recommend it).  We crafted a two-part lease with the state which eventually led to us investing over a million dollars in the park:  In phase one, we built a new concession store (old store on left, our new store on right):

Park_storeexterior000  Store3

In phase two, just complete, we took an old tent-camping loop with no utilities and added 24 new cabins.  These cabins not only refurbish an aging and dated section of the campground, but they also add new amenities to the park to attract visitors who may not own an RV and who don't want to sleep in a tent.  In addition, since they are insulated and heated, these cabins will extend the camping season -- in fact, we already have a number of reservations for Thanksgiving, a time when no one would have wanted to tent camp here.

Cabin1    Cabin_inside2

Its a  win-win-win, where  we make money, the state gets lease revenues
from us that exceed their previous camping revenues, and the public
gets new amenities without any taxes or public spending.

So, in answer to the question I so often get, "why does a libertarian run a company that works with the government?"  Now you know why.  I will admit that from time to time I find myself on the losing end of libertarian-intellectual-purity debates because I choose this path rather than, say, living in a cabin in the wilderness and manufacturing rifle barrels for a living.  *Shrug*

Postscript:  One lesson I have also learned is that state governments are not always a monolith.  Texas and Florida, for example, while being beloved of libertarians for having no state income tax, can be horribly bureaucratic in certain areas (e.g. sales tax reporting and vehicle registrations).  California, on the other hand, which in many ways is one of the worst states to do business in, actually has what is probably the most innovative and business-friendly state parks organization in the country.  Go figure.

PS#2:  By the way, the cabins shown are actually modular buildings, built here in Phoenix by Cavco, and shipped to the site.  The classy interior work was done my by maintenance supervisor.

Worst Music Video Ever

It has been a while since I have posted this, but I am still convinced this is the worst music video ever made.  The only competitor I can think of is if you classified the movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" as a music video.  Enjoy (or not):

Seriously, this is wrong is so many ways.


I have argued for a while that American support for real free speech seems to be languishing, and we seem to be more and more comfortable with making exceptions to the first amendment for "hate speech" and speech that offends people, and speech that costs money during an election.  And now this, via Q&O, from a Rasmussen poll:

A large segment of the public would like to extend the concept of the
Fairness Doctrine to the Internet as well. Thirty-four percent (34%)
believe the government should "require web sites that offer political
commentary to present opposing viewpoints." Fifty percent (50%) are

They could only dredge up a bare majority of 50% to oppose this?

The Individual Responsibility Bomb

Yesterday I saw Live Free or Die Hard, and I must say that it was an unexpectedly enjoyable film.  Good action from earlier movies combined with an unlikely buddy movie element.  I was disappointed only with one bit towards the end that overtaxed my suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, not to spoil too much, a mysterious group has hacked into government computers to shut down most public functions - air traffic control, traffic lights, emergency response.  They've also messed with communications and stock market computers. 

In pushing their terrorist attack, the message was interesting.  I can't remember the exact words, but it was stuff like "what if you called the government and no one was there to answer.  What if you needed help and government agencies could not help you.  You are all alone"  This struck me as a thoroughly modern form of attack -- the terrorists cut the welfare state off from the government, forcing them to take responsibility for their own lives, and everyone panics in response.

I remember one line where Bruce Willis says "Surely the government has departments full of people to deal with this kind of thing" and the other character says "it took the government five days after Katrina to get water to the Superdome."  Again, the assumption is that as the tools of civilization fail, only the government could put things together again, and they were undermanned.  But after Katrina, Wal-Mart and Home Depot had extra inventory in their local stores, with a focus on plywood and generators and the like, in hours rather than days.  FEMA on the other hand spent more time after Katrina keeping individuals from helping in New Orleans of their own initiative than doing anything themselves.   Civilization was built by individuals, not the government, and if it ever comes to rebuilding it, the same will be true.

A Parable of Cars and Contact Lenses

I drive into my local Shell station to fill up, and stick my card in the pump, but the pump refuses to dispense.  I walk into the office and ask the store manager why I can't get gasoline.  She checks my account, and says "Mr. Meyer, your Volvo fuel prescription has expired."  I say, "Oh, well its OK, I am sure I am using the right gas."  She replies, "I'm sorry, but the law requires that you have to have a valid prescription from your dealership to refill your gas.  You can't make that determination yourself, and most car dealerships have their prescriptions expire each year to make sure you bring the car in for a checkup.  Regular checkups are important to the health of your car.  You will need to pay for a service visit to your dealership before we can sell you gas."  I reply, "RRRRRRR."

OK, so if this really happened we would all scream SCAM!  While we all recognize that it may be important to get our car checked out every once in a while, most of us would see this for what it was:  A government regulation intended mainly to increase the business of my Volvo dealership's service department by forcing me to pay for regular visits.

So why don't we cry foul when the exact same situation occurs every day with glasses and contact lenses?  The parable above is nearly exactly the conversation I had the other day with the operator at 1-800-CONTACTS, except with "gas" substituted for "contacts".  I know that my contact lens prescription is a bit out of date, but I really needed them for a trip, and in terms of safety, a slightly out-of-date contact lens in my eye is much better than none (My contacts are about -6.5, which means I am pretty blind without them).  No joy, though.  I did not have time to get to the doctor, so I wore -5.0 contacts I found in a drawer just to have something.  The operator told me that doctors have the prescriptions expire each year so that I am forced to come see them.  Why with eye doctors do we consider this "for my own good" when in any other profession it would be called a scam? 

In fact, each year I know my eyes get about 0.25 worse on each lens.  I would really like to just self-medicate and order myself the next level up, but of course that is way out of bounds.  Can't trust people to figure out their own lens correction (though we do allow this for reading glasses, go figure).

The 60-Second Climate Skeptic

I was trying to think about what I wanted to do for my last post in my recent orgy of global warming writing.  My original attempt to outline the state of the climate skeptic's case ballooned into 80+ pages, so there may be many people who rationally just have no desire to tackle that much material.  So I decided for this last post to try to select the one argument I would use if I had only 60 seconds to make the climate skeptic's case. But how do you boil down 80 pages to a few simple statements?

I'm not that interested in the Sun or cosmic rays -- they are interesting topics, but its dumb to try to argue we overestimate our understanding of man's impact on climate only to counter with topics we understand even less.  One of the reasons I wrote the paper in the first place was because I thought recent skeptical documentaries spent too much time on this subject.  And I would not get into tree rings or ice cores or other historic proxy data, though there is a lot happening in these areas.  I wouldn't even delve into the hysterical treatment of skeptics by man-made climate advocates  -- these are ad hominem issues that are useful to understand in a more comprehensive view but don't make for strong stand-alone arguments.

Anyway, here goes, in a logic chain of 8 steps.

  1. CO2 does indeed absorb reflected sunlight returning to space from earth, having a warming effect.  However, this effect is a diminishing return -- each successive increment of CO2 concentrations will have a much smaller effect on temperatures than the previous increment.  Eventually, CO2 becomes nearly saturated in its ability to absorb radiation.  The effect is much like painting a red room with white paint.  The first coat covers a lot of red but some still shows through.  Each additional coat will make the room progressively whiter, but each successive coat will have a less noticeable effects than the previous coat, until the room is just white and can't get any whiter.
  2. In the 20th century, the UN IPCC claims Earth's surface temperatures have increased by about a 0.6 degree Celsius (though there are some good reasons to think that biases in the installation of temperature instruments have exaggerated this apparent increase).  To be simple (and generous), let's assume all this 0.6C increase is due to man-made greenhouse gasses.  Some may in fact have been due to natural effects, but some may also have been masked by man-made sulfate aerosols, so lets just call man-made warming to be 0.6C. 
  3. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is thought that man has increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 0.028% of the atmosphere to 0.038% of the atmosphere.  Since scientists often talk about the effect of a doubling of CO2, this historic rise in CO2 is 36% of a doubling.
  4. Using simple math, we see that if temperatures have risen 0.6C due to 36% of a doubling, we might expect them to rise by 1.67C for a full doubling to 0.056% of the atmosphere.  But this assumes that the rise is linear -- and we already said (and no one denies) that it is in fact a diminishing return relationship.  Using a truer form of the curve, a 0.6C historic rise for 36% of a doubling implies a full doubling would raise temperatures by about 1.2C, or about 0.6C more than we have seen to date (see chart below).   This means that the magnitude of global warming in the next century might be about what we have seen (and apparently survived) since 1900.
  5. Obviously, there is some kind of disconnect here.  The IPCC predicts temperature increases in the next century of 4-8 degrees C.  Big difference.  In fact, the IPCC predicts we will get a 0.5C rise in just 20 years, not 70-100.  Whereas we derived a climate sensitivity of 1.2 from empirical data, they arrive at numbers between 3 and 4 or even higher for sensitivity.  The chart below shows that to believe sensitivity is 3, we would have to have seen temperature rises due to man historically of 1.5C, which nobody believes. 

    So how do they get accelerating temperatures from what they admit to be a diminishing return relation between CO2 concentration and temperature? And for which there is no empirical evidence?  Answer:  Positive feedback.

  6. Almost every process you can think of in nature operates by negative
    feedback.  Roll a ball, and eventually friction and wind resistance bring
    it to a stop.  Negative feedback is a ball in the bottom of a bowl; positive feedback is a ball perched precariously at the time of a mountain. Positive feedback
    breeds instability, and processes that operate by positive feedback are
    dangerous, and usually end up in extreme states -- these processes tend to
    "run away" like the ball rolling down the hill.  Nuclear fission, for example, is a positive feedback process.  We should be happy there are not more positive feedback
    processes on our planet.  Current man-made global warming theory, however, asserts that our climate is dominated by positive feedback.  The IPCC posits that a small increase in temperature from CO2 is multiplied 2,3,4 times or more by positive feedbacks like humidity and ice albedo.
  7. There are three problems with these assumptions about positive feedback.  One, there is no empirical evidence at all that positive feedbacks in climate dominate negative feedbacks.   The 20th century temperature numbers we discussed above show no evidence of these feedbacks.  Two, the long-term temperature record demonstrates that positive feedbacks can't dominate, because past increases in temperature and CO2 have not run away.  And three, characterizations of stable natural processes as being dominated by positive feedback should offend the intuition and common sense of any scientist.
  8. An expected 21st century increase of 0.5 or even 1 degree C does not justify the massive imposed government interventions that will be costly both in dollars and lost freedoms.  In particular, the developing world will be far better off hotter by a degree and richer than it would be cooler and poorer.  This is particularly true since sources like an Inconvenient Truth wildly exaggerate the negative effects of global warming.  There is no evidence tornadoes or hurricanes or disease or extinction are increasing as the world warms, and man-made warming advocates generally ignore any potential positive effects of warming.  As to rising sea levels, the IPCC predicts only a foot and a half of sea level rise even with 4 or more degrees of warming.  Sea level rise from a half to one degree of warming would be measured at most in inches.

OK, so that was more than 60 seconds.  But it is a lot less than 80 pages.  There is a lot of complexity behind every one of these statements.  If you are intrigued, or at least before you accuse me of missing something critical, see my longer paper on global warming skepticism first, where all these issues and much more (yes, including tree rings and cosmic rays) are discussed in more depth.

Why a Carbon Tax is Superior

I don't think that government action on greenhouse gasses is justified.  That's not to say that man is not helping nature warm the planet some, its that the man-made warming, when you strip away the exaggerations, does not justify the cost of preventing it.  Since I wrote 80+ pages on it here, I won't delve much further into it. 

However, if we are going to take action, a carbon tax is way, way better than cap and trade.  I used to think that cap and trade made more sense, but I have changed my mind.  Cap and trade systems have a lot of potential for error and abuse, but there is one issue that is not adequately discussed:  They are also a huge subsidy and protection for current businesses, effectively penalizing new entrants.

Why?  Because most cap and trade systems begin by giving out emissions credits to current industry incumbents.  These are credits that new entrants will have to purchase, tilting the playing field in favor of current industry leaders.  This is the kind of thing Europeans love, because their largest business interests effectively control the government and keep out new competition, causing their economies to stagnate.  Steven Milloy is one of the few folks raising the red flag on this issue:

the LCEA, the federal government would annually issue rights or
"allowances" to emit GHGs. In the first year of the bill, slated as
2012, allowances would be issued for approximately 6.65 billion metric
tons of GHGs. The amount of allowances slightly decreases every year "“
for example, 6.59 billion metric tons in 2013, 6.53 billion metric tons
in 2014, etc. "“ until it finally levels out at 4.82 billion metric tons
in 2030 and beyond.

These allowances have monetary value "“ a lot.

of allowances can either use them to pay for their GHG emissions or
they can sell them to other emitters who need allowances. Emitters can
also simply pay the federal government directly to emit GHGs at a cost
of $12 per metric ton of carbon dioxide starting in 2012. This price is
slated to increase annually by the inflation rate plus 5 percent. By
2030 "“ and unrealistically assuming that no inflation occurs "“ the
pay-to-emit price would be about $27.50 per metric ton of carbon

Using the pay-to-emit price, the GHG emissions
allowances issued by the federal government in 2012 will have a
potential market value of $80 billion. The annual market value of these
government-issued allowances will rise to over $100 billion by 2018 and
hit $130 billion in 2030. It will only take about 10 years "“ exclusive
of any inflation "“ for value of the allowances issued by the government
to exceed $1 trillion.

And incredible as it sounds, the bulk of
these allowances "“ 76 percent for the first five years, declining to 47
percent by 2030 "“ will be given away at no charge to special interests
including private industry, farmers and states. This global warming
giveaway works out to a total of $1.34 trillion of free money "“ not
adjusted for inflation "“ that would be handed out to global warming
special interests from 2012-2030. After 2030, the annual amount of free
money handed out is about $65 billion, increasing by 5 percent per
year, exclusive of inflation.

Unfortunately, politicians will always favor an indirect tax over a direct tax because they are gutless and entirely free of any nagging principles.  Cap and trade systems would raise consumer prices at least as much as a carbon tax, but the price increase would appear to be made by industry and not due to a visible government tax.  Congress can point the finger at industry and say, it's not our fault, it's those greedy guys in industry driving up prices.

Further, the carbon tax is hard to game.  Everybody pays.  But cap and trade - Oh the beautiful potential to milk various constituencies for donations!  If the government sets up a program where some groups get credits for free, and some have to pay for them, well of course every industry is going to pour millions upon millions into politician's hands trying to make sure they are in the favored group. 

What a mess.  We are already seeing the huge distortions coming from nutty ethanol subsidies, and that is due to the pressure of just one industry (farmers and ADM).  Just think of the distortions form this program.  There may be a good chance that misguided attempts to manage greenhouse gasses may well be the largest threat to the American economy and free marketplace, well, ever.  Which, by the way, is why every Marxist and socialist on the face of the earth are right at the forefront of the global warming movement.

If you suspect that the world may be warming, but not nearly enough to justify such costs in terms of both dollars and lost freedom, you might want to read this.

Damned Academic Conformity

I hear 99% of physicists also believe in gravity and think that the world is round.  Damned pressure to conform!

By the way, aren't these the same people who lament when any American is found not to believe in evolution?

Lileks, Power Tools, Movies. What More Could You Want?

One of my favorite bloggers, TJIC, also runs a business called SmartFlix
which has an enormous collection of instructional videos, from crafts
to outdoors to home improvement, all for rent.  Most of these niche
videos are incredibly helpful, but are almost impossible to find
anywhere else.

Anyway, TJIC apparently wrote James Lileks, a really fun-to-read columnist and author, with the following come-on:

We send you a video.  You watch it, or watch 10 minutes of it, or don't watch it at all.

Then you write something, which might be a review, or might
barely mention the video at all. For example, a short review on a video
that instructs one on how to play pool might mention the fact that you
watched 10 minutes of the video, and then segue onto a story about you
playing pool 15 years ago with The Giant Swede"¦

In short, I propose a business relationship where you do whatever the heck you want to.

Anyway, Lilek's first column is up.

Don't Offend Us in Arizona

I have written a number of times about universities establishing a "right not to be offended" that supersedes free speech.  This is a bit old, but apparently our confused state of Arizona has done the same thing:

The Arizona Senate has unanimously passed
a resolution banning the "Bush Lied, They Died" t-shirts from sale in
the state. The shirts include the names of hundreds of U.S. troops
killed in Iraq in fine print, which legislators apparently find
unseemly, and which they say makes the shirts commercial speech,
instead of political speech, which the Supreme Court says enjoys more
First Amendment protection.

This theory is absurd.  Printing it on a T-Shirt and selling it for money no more converts this into commercial speech than printing Maureen Dowd's column on paper and selling it for money makes her editorials unprotected.   The law makes it

punishable by up to a year in jail to use the names of deceased
soldiers to help sell goods. The measure, SB 1014, also would let
families go to court to stop the sales and collect damages

Here is a question - about every person in Phoenix, including me, has bought some sort of Pat Tillman shirt or jersey, to memorialize our local football player killed in action.  Are those now illegal?  The AZ Republic makes money selling papers in Phoenix that contain the
names of deceased soldiers all the time -- are they going to jail?  Does this mean that no one can sell Glen Miller albums in Arizona?  And if it is determined to be OK to sell shirts memorializing soldiers or reporting on their deaths but not to criticize the president, well, that is pretty much selective enforcement based on political views, is it not.

As an aside, I have never really like the Bush Lied meme, though perhaps not for the reasons his supporters hate it.  I don't like it because it's purpose seems to be to relieve every other politician of both parties from any responsibility for the war;  ie, since they were all victims of lies, they bear no responsibility for their actions (or their votes).  I don't buy that.

Update: Volokh has a much more complete analysis here, which include exceptions to the law.  It appears that at least the Arizona Republic and Glen Miller are safe, but Pat Tillman jerseys still seem to be in the gray zone.  However, interestingly, the law seems to exempt many forms of commercial speech but ban political use of the names.   Wither the first amendment.

Go West, Young Woman

One of my favorite blog finds of late is Strange Maps.  From that source, comes this map guaranteed to bring fear to the heart of every thirty-something Manhattan single woman:


My guess is that a subtitle to the graph in southwestern cities is "single men immigrate more than single women."  Note the scale really under-estimates the situation in NY, since the scale is capped at 40,000.  If they had extended the scale, NY would be probably be a 2-inch diameter circle.

Update: Don't miss the shorter version of my climate paper, which I call the 60-second climate skeptic.

The Most Fanciful Thing I Have Read Today

Conservatives were all over Keith Ellison for his comments about 9/11.  While I think that many of the arguments by 9/11 "truthers" are scientifically bankrupt, I kind of respect the general lack of trust and respect for the government that their skepticism stems from.  And as to Ellison's comments about impeaching the vice-president, I can't imagine anything I would enjoy more than watching Congress tie itself up for months impeaching a largely irrelevant office holder.

However, I thought this was pretty fanciful:

You'll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists
all you want," Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, said in a speech to more than 100 atheists at the Southdale Library in Edina. . . .

Does anyone really think that if they showed up at the Tehran airport tomorrow proclaiming that "I'm an atheist - let's be pals" that they would be treated with respect?  If I made up a list of countries not to visit as an atheist, 15th Century Spain would be first, but my guess is that several modern Islamic countries would crack the top 10.

Just Shoot Me Now

From LiveEarth: (emphasis added)

[I]t was nonmusicians at this concert who made
the most passionate pleas about demanding action for the environment.
"Get rid of all these rotten politicians that we have in Washington,
who are nothing more than corporate toadies," said Robert F. Kennedy
Jr., the environmentalist author, president of Waterkeeper Alliance and
Robert F. Kennedy's son, who grew hoarse from shouting. "This is
treason. And we need to start treating them as traitors."

For those tired of the climate bent of late, I apologize.  I have mostly finished my book project, and once I get all the comments integrated (thanks again everyone) and publish the 1.1 version, I will be off climate for a while.  In fact, in addition to my job thing, I have completed the outline and have the first several chapters written of a young adult book I would like to finish.


Big Bottom

John Scalzi has a great clip of Spinal Tap playing "Big Bottom" at Live Earth with a stage full of every bassist they could find.  Awesome.  Scalzi asks whether the band that first turned it up to eleven should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Damn you Scalzi, I have to get some work done today.