Sonntag, November 30, 2008

If You Can't Win In Politics...

...then use the courts to intimidate and force people to obey your whim.

This underscores how truly dangerous the Global Warming people have become: it's only going to get worse.

It is a call for a new International Court to enforce environmental policies.

To quote:

The first role of the new body would be to enforce international agreements on cutting greenhouse gas emissions set to be agreed next year.

But the court would also fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment and enforce the "right to a healthy environment"

Hence the court will be able to go after everyone: unless you can prove that you haven't failed to protect the environment, you're guilty. But the next is even worse: how will they "enforce" the right to a healthy environment? This is language so broad, so sweeping that it can mean literally anything.

...the threat of climate change means it is more important than ever for the law to protect the environment.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland this month is set to begin negotiations that will lead to a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen next year. Developed countries are expected to commit to cutting emissions drastically, while developing countries agree to halt deforestation.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has agreed the concept of an international court will be taken into account when considering how to make these international agreements on climate change binding. The court is also backed by a number of MPs, climate change experts and public figures including the actress Judi Dench.

Now you see the underlying fear of the watermelons: that the new conference will provide lip service and business goes on as usual. Agreeing to the concept of such a court is dangerous: backed by politicians, global warming fanatics and the usual group of silly persons who don't have the sense to actually think about what they are doing.

"The time is now ripe to set this up and get it going," he said. "Its remit will be overall climate change and the need for better regulation of carbon emissions but at the same time the implementation and enforcement of international environmental agreements and instruments."

As well as providing resolution between states, the court will also be useful for multinational businesses in ensuring environmental laws are kept to in every country.

Now that's a mandate: to control climate change? What galling hubris. The real task will be in extorting money from multinational companies: that's what this really is. This will be used to ensure that the environmental laws of the West are used to bludgeon the Third World into submission to laws that will ensure that millions will live and die in poverty, since the environemnt here clearyl trumps everything else.

The court would include a convention on the right to a healthy environment and provide a higher body for individuals or non-governmental organisations to protest against an environmental injustice.

Mr Hockman said the court may be able to fine businesses or states but its main role will be in making "declaratory rulings" that influence and embarrass countries into upholding the law.

In other words, such a court would be the sounding board for the entire watermelon culture, the permanent public place to castigate everyone not toeing the watermelon line. Like they can't get their message out now via the MSM: if anything, this may well be used as a bludgeon to silence the critics.

The court would be led by retired judges, climate change experts and public figures. It would include a scientific body to consider evidence and provide access to any data on the environment.

Most importantly, Mr Hockman said an international court on the environment would influence public opinion which in turn would force Governments to take the environment seriously. He said: "If there are bodies around that can give definitive legal rulings that are accepted as fair and reasonable that has its own impact on public opinion."

And there you go: if you can't win in politics, use the court to dictate what public opinion should be. Retired judges, chosen for their commitment to judicial activism; climate change experts who falsfiy their data and build models that always give the desired results; and nattering fools who think that they - purported - ability to charm the camera means that the rest of their opinions actually carry weight.

This isn't a court: it's a PR action. The only resemblance to a court is to a kangaroo court, for show trials and public castigation of those who dare to point out that not only is the emperor without clothes, he's fat and ugly to boot.

The only way for the environmentalists, the watermelons (red inside, green outside) to be taken seriously is to do the science right and proper, without faked data and with models that give you different results with different inputs (which the global warming "scientists" have failed to do so). The problem then is ...

..that there is no anthropogenic global warming.

If you can't win in politics, then lie and decieve. This court isn't just a bad idea: it's a perversion of the idea.

Community Reinvestment Act Retour...

I've written about the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) before. It's a criminally stupid attempt to enforce "fairness" in lending by forcing banks to make loans that make no financial sense, passing the inevitable costs on to the rest of us. It sounds like a good idea, but it's not. It has fundamentally distorted markets, creating imbalances that have led to subprime meltdown and has, now, cost the taxpayer, literally, hundreds of billions, and which has generated close to $13 trillion in losses.

The good news is that it cannot be anything but obvious that the CRA has been a major cause of our current recession.

The bad news is here.

Like the undead, the CRA refuses to die.

And it has friends. People who should have acted in a timely manner to stop the crisis, but who actively interfered and prevented those who knew that it would be a problem from actually doing anything about it.

The deluded, who actually believe that the CRA was a good thing.

Chris Dodd for one. Democrat from Connecticut.

Why is this man still serving? Anyone with a sense of responsibility must have resigned, especially after the news of his sweet-heart mortgage deals with a company that is under the oversight of the committee on which Dodd serves.

This is the modern face of corruption: you can claim all you want this and that, but Chris Dodd is a corrupt politician. Of course, under the current make-up of Congressional leadership, the likelihood that he will face even something as mild as a rebuke is miniscule, let alone an actuall process. Which goes to underscore just how corrupt Congress has become.

But getting back to the CRA: it will not die as long as the friends of the CRA remain in power, labelling anyone who dares to criticize the program as being racist because it "ensures" that minorities get loans. In the bizarre world of DC, that is tantamount to political suicide, so the CRA will continue to distort the market. Banks still feel the pressure from bank regulators who use the CRA as a bludgeon to force banks to continue to make loans that will not perform.

Might as well have the banks just burn the money.

It's really a very, very simple causal connection: banks were forced by legislation to take on higher levels of risk than they would have otherwise; new risk instruments were developed to counter the risk; the new risk instruments were repackaged and sold to disguise their inherent risks (and the rating agencies in the US deserve blame here); when risks materialized, the system reacted as it was designed to do; the system went down because the risks were improperly classified and hence became toxic. The credit derivatives based on subprimes were not the cause, but rather the symptom of the fundamental imbalance.

There are two lessons to be learned from this.

1) Rating agencies' commitment to internal regulation failed miserably and hence such agencies must be regulated directly.

2) CRA and subprimes distort markets and must be legislated out of existence.

Avoiding either actions sets the economy up for a repeat event.

And how stupid is that?

Well, there is a House Resolution 7264 that aims at repealing the CRA: the actual language is this:

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977... is hereby repealed.

See? That wasn't so hard. I put the ellipsis in to simply remove the reference to the legislation that passed the CRA.

The chance of this happening? Uncertain. Nine sponsors, all Republicans.

The Democrats aren't even thinking about this one. That would be too much of a strain, I suppose.


Donnerstag, November 27, 2008

Patterns and Recognition...Patternicity

This jibes nicely with what I have posted here recently.

One of the epistemological questions facing us that has yet to be well resolved is anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I say that it has not been well resolved because the proponents lack proper arguments - arguing that it is consensus is not an arguement, sorry: it is a logical fallacy, an appeal to authority. The IPCC publications are rife with errors - the Mann Hockey Stick, or instance - and have been compromised with politics, effectively perverting any inquiry as to what is really going on. I've documented in previous posts here how both models and data have been compromised as well.

But why? Well, there is the obvious reason: politics.

But the article I link to here points to an alternative: something that author calls "patternicity". We in the economics field call it "chartism", but the principle is the same: believing that there is meaning to a pattern that in and of itself lacks meaning. It helps explain the psychological mechanism behind the belief that AGW is real and existent.

To quote the author (Michael Shermer):

... we did not evolve a Baloney Detection Network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns. We have no error-detection governor to modulate the pattern-recognition engine. (Thus the need for science with its self-correcting mechanisms of replication and peer review.)

This is an important, if banal, point: the problem that AGW proponents face is their fight against replication of methods and the corruption of the peer review system (peer review collapses when the editors of journals consistently reject as unscientific articles that challenge the orthodoxy).

One way of expressing this is pb>c, i.e. a belief will be held when the benefits of that belief are greater than the costs of holding that belief. I'd take that one step further: there is also a distinction between the personal benefits and the costs of the commons, i.e. costs that are carried by all: this is where the proponents of AGW stand. They benefit enormously privately - their funding continues - but there are no costs for them: the costs are born by the commons, and only indirectly by the average individual. Hence the enthusiasm for such dogma and liberties taken both with models and data (manipulations of both have been shown to automagically lead to the results that the researchers want, even if fed with white, pink and other noise variants).


Through a series of complex formulas that include additional stimuli (wind in the trees) and prior events (past experience with predators and wind), the authors conclude that "the inability of individuals—human or otherwise—to assign causal probabilities to all sets of events that occur around them will often force them to lump causal associations with non-causal ones. From here, the evolutionary rationale for superstition is clear: natural selection will favour strategies that make many incorrect causal associations in order to establish those that are essential for survival and reproduction."

The obsession that more than a few AGW proponents have with their prescribed corrections as being necessary for the survival of the human race now starts to make sense: they truly believe this, but on the level of superstition, not ratio.

And finally:

Such patternicities, then, mean that people believe weird things because of our evolved need to believe nonweird things.

Which goes, I think, to explain conspiracy theories and both religious and pseudo-scientific cults quite well.

Mittwoch, November 26, 2008

The Politics of Guilt...

I think we can see a pattern developing here. Good old James Hansen put it bluntly here:

China has surpassed the United States as the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Hansen said. However because of the long lifetime of the compound, the U.S. is over three times more responsible than any other country for the carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, and will remain so for decades to come.

In other words, the US will continue to be the scapegoat for global warming, regardless of what the US does: we've already committed the original sin, and now it's time to pay.

This is nothing less than the attempt to tattoo a great big red letter "A" (for Anthropomorphic Warming) on the forehead of the US in the attempt to bully and blackmail as much money out of the US for something that, if it even exists, is so small in comparison to the natural causes of climate change that it is irrelevant.

Scare-mongering at its best: the politics not of reason, not of science (hah!), but rather the politics of guilt.

Never mind that we didn't do it...

Dienstag, November 25, 2008

Obama And The Apocalypse...and The Need To COP-Out

Wow. This is about as over-the-top as I have seen in a long time, and deserves a closer look.

Ian McEwan wrote it.

Who the heck is Ian McEwan? He's a writer, a novelist. And one of some reclaim, apparently.

But he's also symptomatic of the false expectations not only of the left, but of the greens as well.

The title of the essay, with subtitle, is:

The world's last chance

After years of living in fear of climate change, we are fast acquiring the weapons to defeat it. But the only one who can unite humanity for this life-or-death struggle is Barack Obama - and he must act now.

As the Germans say: Ach Du Lieber Himmel. Or more appropriately:WTF?

So the fisking begins:

'I refute it thus!" was Samuel Johnson's famous, beefy riposte one morning after church in 1763. As he spoke, according to his friend James Boswell, he kicked "with mighty force" a large stone "till he rebounded from it". The good doctor was contesting Bishop Berkeley's philosophical idealism, the view that the external, physical world does not exist and is the product of the mind. It was never much of a disproof, but we can sympathise with its sturdy common sense and physical display of Anglo-Saxon, if not Anglican, pragmatism.

Ah, that old chestnut, the difference between continental philosophy and rationalists of England. The difference between "reality" and perception, the stuff of philosophers. Nice start, but what's the point? That whilst Samuel Johnson is incapable of disproving what the good Bishop has spoken of, his common sense and pragmatism is something to be sympathized with. McEwan is setting the stage for what follows: it's not about reality, but rather one man's failure to disprove an assumption, however sympathetic the attempt might have been.

Still, we may have proved Berkeley partially correct; in an age of electronic media, where rumour, opinion and fact are tightly interleaved, and where politicians must sing to compete for our love, public affairs have the quality of a waking dream, a collective solipsism whose precise connection to the world of kickable stones is obscure, though we are certain that it exists.

Yep, the world of the left and the greens: there is no substance there, no clear delineation between facts, opinion and rumor - not because the author fails to make them, but rather because the public can't. Politics has become a waking dream, a collective solipsism - now there's a contradiction in terms! - which has no real connections to the "real" world. In other words, the right and marketable illusions trumps all else, especially reality and the cold, hard facts: the only problem is that this isn't reality. It's the world of the delusional left, the delusional greens, who have actively rejected reality and eschewed empiricism so as to create their waking dream, where intent excuses incompetence and adherence to the dogma that makes up the waking dream is a prerequisite. They know that there is a reality out there: they just don't want to deal with it.

The contest for the US presidency, like all elections, had the self-enclosed quality of a squash game, a chess match, a postmodern novel - and this one was far better than most. While the candidates appeared to address an external reality, they were bound by strictly ethereal requirements: to cast spells on large crowds while seeming ordinary, to trample their opponent into oblivion while seeming pleasant, to be inspirational yet sensible, to avoid offending a score of sensitive constituencies, and, an old wizard's touch, to promise the electorate various gifts without further borrowing or raising taxes.

Bread and circus, then for the body politic.Politics is a game, something to play with, not something real: an intellectual playground. Indicative of the appalling simplicity and, really, silliness of the left and greens: it's all about illusions and fooling the sheeple. What naivete.

And to win. As Barack Obama steps forward, the smoke machines and mirrors are packed away - or perhaps we can never, or should never, let them go. To those who believe that climate change in the context of global poverty is our most pressing problem, underpinning all others, requiring degrees of cooperation and rationality we might not even be capable of, the elevation of this slender, handsome man becomes the object of unreal expectation. Inevitably, after a long campaign of crowd pleasing, the question hangs in the air: is he merely the expert coiner of a stirring speech, or does he have the steel to turn intentions into results? At the very least, America finally has a president who, whatever his profession of faith, has a high regard for science (look at his sturdy views on intelligent design in Nature magazine of September 25) and has surrounded himself with scientific advisers of impeccable quality, and committed himself to the dreamy target of an 80% reduction below 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2050.

Here is the key, the reason I am fisking this: the demand that reality never intrude. The phrase tells it all: the commitment to a dreamy target. But there is at the same time the warning: the object of unreal expecations.

The issue of climate change is itself another near-virtual reality. Ever since 1979, when James Hansen's Ad Hoc Group on CO2 reported to President Carter, there have been symposia, denials, summits, documentaries, marches, legislation, trading schemes and, above all, resounding speeches high on ambition - in Europe we rather excel at these.

Again, the avoidance of reality, plus the idea that the issue of climate change is near-virtual, "another" reality. What Europe really excels at is the hypocrisy of making pledges that no one can keep without impoverishing millions. But that's another reality.

However, on the all-too-kickable stone we call the Earth, where results from thousands of measurements in oceans and on land masses are mapped against satellite data, the mean temperature has continued to rise. In 2006, and even more in 2007, the shrinking of the summer ice in the Arctic exceeded the gloomiest predictions. Data for the past year, during an economic downturn, show CO2 levels rising as fast as ever. It is doubtful whether there is yet a single recorded instance of a carbon-producing power station taken out of commission to make way for a clean energy installation.

Sigh. The data, the data, the data: see my last post here for how the data is being manipulated and changed. This is the most alarming problem: that the data is being manipulated to meet expectations.

The burning forests, the dissolving coral reefs, the extinction of species - we have numbed ourselves with these familiar litanies. During the past 30 years we have dealt with the issue, if at all, only in our minds. There are, of course, first signs of a new clean energy infrastructure - along certain stretches of the Danish coastline, on some German and Japanese rooftops, in certain deserts - but the effect so far is miniscule. We are still dreaming, still murmuring in our sleep as we grope for the levers that connect thoughts to actions.

Dreaming indeed: how bitter it must be for the dedicated, the prophets of the new religion, to be - quite rightly so - ignored and how grating it must be for those who live in a fantasy world for reality to so steadfastly reject their brayings.

Domestically, Obama will have a number of factors on his side, beyond good working majorities in both houses. There is at least agreement that there is a problem - anthropogenic climate change is a fact, an American fact. Doing nothing is simply too expensive. A good part of the Republican party accepts this, as do major corporations, and even oil companies. The deniers are, or should be, folding their tents - and what was to deny? A molecule of CO2 absorbs the longer wave length of light, trapping radiant heat from the earth. More CO2, more trapped warmth. If temperatures drift much beyond 2C above pre-industrial levels, the human and economic consequences could be catastrophic. Americans have already seen what happens when a warmer Atlantic Ocean lends its energy to the hurricane season.

Sigh. The usual litany of the dogma of the Grand Lie (it no longer qualifies as a Big Lie, but has become the Grand Lie of this generation of fools and simpletons): but the clarity of who is to blame is unusual. Here anthropogenic climate change - the tail wagging the dog - is an American "fact", something that the Americans have caused and hence own responsibility for. We see that the dream continues...

Other than that, it's the drivel that passes for science in their dream world.

Thus the matter is passing from virtue, from idealism and sombre invitations to self-denial, which government, markets and the electorate distrust, to self-interest and necessity, for which they all have respect. Oil production will soon decline, and alternatives must be found anyway; many oil-producing countries are grisly human constructs on which no one wants to depend; if the US does not invest in green technologies now, it will have to buy them later from its competitors; Germany has created a quarter of a million jobs in renewable energy; it is beginning to be apparent that there is a vast amount of money to be made retooling and supplying a whole civilisation with new energy sources.

Ah, now we see the chain: after failing to convince the powers-that-be of the dire straits of today, the emphasis shifts to the long-term persuasion of the public of the necessity of this change. The transition is from virtue, idealism and self-denial to self-interest and necessity. The problem is that too reach the point where self-interest takes over, reality must be denied and replaced with a dream world where everything is simplicity and the world is simply too dense to solve the problems. This isn't a dream world: it is delusional, one that once again denies the fundamental engineering problems that face solar, wind and other "renewable" energy sources.

The technologies are developing at speed, but the basic ideas have a simple allure. Consider just one form of solar energy. An alien landing on our planet and noticing how it was bathed in light would be amazed to learn that we believe ourselves to have an energy problem, that we ever should have thought of overheating or poisoning ourselves by burning fossil fuels or generating plutonium. Sunlight falls on us in a constant stream, a sweet rain of photons beyond counting. On average, by Nasa's calculation, 200 watts for every square metre of the Earth's surface. A single photon striking a semi-conductor releases an electron, and so electricity is born, right out of sunbeams. These are the photovoltaics that Einstein described and for which he won a Nobel prize. If you believed in God, you might say this free energy was his greatest gift. Let there be light! If you did not, you might wonder at how auspicious the laws of physics are. As is often pointed out, less than an hour's worth of all the sunlight falling on the Earth would satisfy the whole world's needs for a year. A fraction of our hot deserts could power our civilisation.

Well, sunshine, if that's the case, why hasn't it already been done? Could it be that ... reality intrudes just a tiny bit, that the 200 watts for every square metre is a hypothetical, and that the semi-conductor - more precisely, silicon, or is he advocating gallium-arsenic semiconductors here? - can't generate an electron for every photon (that'd be perfect efficiency, and simply doesn't exist in the real world, that nasty, cold and brutish place. Recognize again how "simple" everything is...

Millions of acres in the American south-western deserts have already been identified for suitable sites. Installations are beginning to appear, some of them funded by European companies taking advantage of state tax-breaks. In private and public labs, new technologies are being invented. How can a solar or wind plant generate power by night? Daniel Nocera at MIT has imitated photosynthesis to crack water efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen; at night these gases are recombined in a fuel cell to drive a turbine. In other labs, the race is on for that industrial golden egg, a cheaper, lighter, more powerful battery for use in electric cars; nanotechnology is being used to derive two electrons from one photon; thin film solar panels are already in production; other labs are working on solar paints. The lines of inquiry are proliferating by the thousands. That resourceful Californian generation that made its fortune refining the internet is beginning to relive its youth in clean energy. The whole sector is like a coiled spring, waiting to unleash its full force into the economy.

Here the use of scare tactics: see, us Europeans know better, and we're using your stupid tax breaks, designed to make Americans a tad paranoid (Really? he wants paranoid Americans?). His solutions beggar thought: breaking water into hydrogen and oxygen is fine, but where is the water in the desert? Recombine these in the night in a fuel cell to drive a turbine: WTF? What drivel is this? You can't use a fuel cell to drive a turbine: fuel cells generate electricity directly (you could drive a turbine by burning hydrogen, but fuel cells are so much more ... ecological, I guess is the right word. At least he's getting the key words down right, even if they are being put together like a child playing with an erector set. The whole sector waiting like a coiled spring, ready to unleash its full force into the economy?

Obviously, the man knows absolutely NOTHING about either watch movements or the economy. The coiled spring refers to the mainspring of a watch: as anyone watchmaker knows - and as well those who actually inform themselves about how watches work - unleashing the full power of a mainspring on a watch movement destroys the movement, since the critical thing is not unleashing full force, but rather managing the release. The same is true of the economy (and the concept of "watchwork economy" is something I will be developing further...)

In other words, Obama assumes power at a time when renewable energy has ceased to be a marginal pursuit. The hour may have summoned the man, but this happens to be a particularly difficult hour. In Berkeleyan mode, we have entered a global recession because we always thought we would. The fictional head of a snake has begun to devour its actually existing tail - a circularity the great Argentinean fabulist, Jorge Luis Borges, would have appreciated. We dreamed of this recession, we saw it coming and we made it so. Meanwhile, in the Johnsonian "real" economy, factories, distribution systems, human inventiveness, the will to work, the need for goods and services are much as they were last year - except, as certainty of the recession tightens, people fear more and spend less, corporations begin to make redundancies, and so the recession is locked in.

Au contraire: first of all, Obama does not assume power. No American President has ever "assumed power", but rather assumed the title of President of the United States, whose powers are clearly delineated and limited by the US constitution. That's an interesting document to read: I recommend doing so on a regular basis, especially for the author.

But what goaded me to write here is this line: We dreamed of this recession, we saw it coming and we made it so.

Good lord, what hubris. But more appropriately, what a crime: to deeply desire economic turmoil, to actively work to make it so. And most importantly: it was their goal. Does the ban on drilling now make sense? Do punitive taxes on oil products now make sense? Does the idea of making everyone pay for carbon now make sense? The left and the greens - the watermelons, Red inside, Green outside - have been working on creating the crisis. Of creating, to use the jargon, a pre-revolutionary situation where the old order becomes incapable of dealing with the problem. It's just rare that anyone actually admits to it.

Beyond that, the problems are solvable, but they are formidable too. The departing president has been energetically pulling levers in the real world, facilitating coal-fired power plants, opening up federally owned wilderness to oil and gas drilling and encouraging the commercial exploitation of oil shale. This will all have to be reversed by President Obama. Solar- and wind-generating plants are often far from cities; as in Europe, a new direct current grid is needed; the old is chaotically devolved to state level. The costs will be enormous, the benefits will not be immediately obvious to many consumers, and the US government has colossal debts. Coal remains a crucial energy source in the States, but "clean" coal is still a fantasy, and piping CO2 to the appropriate geological sites and pumping it underground is expensive. Oil interests will not be happy with their loss of supremacy and ancient privileges, or with contemplating a cap and trade scheme during a recession. Acceptable electric vehicles are still a good way off.

Now, this is the interesting twist on the old phrase: difficult but solveable: here it is solveable, but difficult. Might sound like a small difference, but the difference is critical: in the real-world of engineering, one works on the difficult in order to solve it; here the problems are declared, ex cathedra from first principles, as solved, now make it so. Sorry, engineering doesn't work that way (as the vast and doomed attempts by Soviet and ChiCom engineers to implement the sad plans of their masters have proved time and time again).

The next sentence reflects the fact that the author remains in the dream world: Bush is doing things in the real world. Which then "must" be reversed by a President Obama. Then he goes on to underscore how much he is living in a fantasy world with no relationship to reality: to change the entire grid from alternating to direct current - which also involves changing the entire world of consumer appliances and electronics - is sheer stupidity that generates huge costs with no direct benefits. This is not something the government can afford, and what the author argues for is the realization of pipe dreams: nothing more, nothing less than the demand that reality be changed to match the dream world.

And beyond the administrative and technological problems, there are the usual obstacles. It is not only Harold Macmillan's "events, dear boy, events" that can blow a thoughtful politician off course. There are half a dozen other pressing domestic and international concerns, then - mistakes, enemies, political process, the fumblings or ambitious scheming of lieutenants, the fading novelty of a new presidential face. And above all, undue caution.

Sigh. Reality as obstacle to the dream world.

Within the climate science community there is a faction darkly murmuring that it is already too late. The more widely held view is hardly more reassuring: we have less than eight years to start making a significant impact on CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, eight years to move from Berkeley's solipsism to Johnson's pragmatism. Thereafter, as tipping points are reached, as feedback loops strengthen, the emissions curve will rise too quickly for us to restrain it. In the words of John Schellnhuber, one of Europe's leading climate scientists and chief scientific adviser to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, "what is required is an industrial revolution for sustainability, starting now".

If there are indeed "only" 8 years for the change to happen, then there is no point in trying: that sort of change takes a generation, not a mere two political seasons. Once again, reality intrudes...

To be effective, this is only possible at the level of international cooperation - far more difficult to achieve than any technological breakthrough. There is a rendezvous next year in Copenhagen in late November which the entire world of climate expertise is preparing itself for and which is considered by many in the field to be our best and possibly last hope of addressing the problem before it runs away from us. It is the global successor to Kyoto, known in the trade as COP (Conference of Parties) 15. There is a case to be made that it will be one of the most important international meetings ever convened. If it does not result in practical, radical measures, the fight to control our future could well be lost. Every nation on the planet will be represented. The general feeling is that the conference cannot be allowed to fail. And it cannot succeed without the leadership of the United States. There are fears that Obama will move too cautiously on climate change for political reasons, and that would be a tragic error. Schellnhuber says, "If he were prepared to come in person to Copenhagen and make a speech, a bold commitment, similar to what Reagan did in Reykjavik, he would become a hero of the planet, for good."

Now the author admits above that the European posturing about Kyoto has been hypocritical and a waste of time: why then does he think that COP would run any different? If anything, it's a COP-Out. The most important international meeting ever convened? More important than Yalta, more important than the establishment of the United Nations, more important that your average Boy Scout meeting? Scarcely: the author is proclaiming the apocalypse if the world does not dance to his tune: the problem is, he needs a subservient Barack Obama to does his will.

But hey, send Obama to the conference, let him wine and dine with these fools, let him participate in the dream. Reality will intrude. The idea that Obama can do for the ecological movement what Reagan did for the West is not merely pathetic, it is truly deluded. You see, Obama won't be able to do anything that endangers one of the core special interests that have bought the Democratic Party (and bought it a long, long time ago, my friends): the unions. Obama is facing a Congress that thinks it has it all: his real position is that of the new farmhand who is between the prize razorback and the feedtrough. Expect attendance, blah blah and at least the same degree of hypocrisy about implementing whatever COP comes out with that the Europeans express: expect nothing besides a bit of kum-by-yah and the usual nattering nabobs. The best and last hope indeed: if anything, such conferences are the best and last hope that this dream is finally sent off to be hung up and dried.

And so the mechanisms of the unreal, the smoke and mirrors, might have to come to the aid of our actually existing, overheating world. The process that let us believe we were dealing with climate change when we were doing nothing at all, or let us think our way into a recession - these emanations of collective and collusive dreaming can have their positive side. Obama may succeed in tipping the nations toward a low-carbon future simply because people think he can. Scientists, whose stock-in-trade is scepticism, and conference-weary diplomats, along with millions around the world are attributing to him something like unearthly powers. He is invested with more symbolism - of renewal, of rationality - than his slight frame can bear. But having persuaded everybody else, he may be doubly persuaded himself. This aura will be his empowerment, as numinous as good luck, as permanent as spring snow. He has to move decisively.

This is where the author is right: the only way that the watermelons are going to get any sort of their dream passed is to employ smoke and mirrors to bamboozle the sheeple. The fact that the watermelons continue to prey upon the uninformed and generate revenues from them is the only thing keeping them alive: their hope now is not for their "science" to prevail, but more importantly for the neo-savior to arrive and transform the world, to make dreams a reality. Oh, and those who drink the anthropogenic global warming kool-aid aren't the sceptics here: they are the accolates, incapable of scepticism, because it comes at the cost of the loss of their funding. Obama's the man, if he can't do it, no one can!

Sorry, this is peurile, pathetic and desperate.

There were those who said during the campaign that Obama turned a fine speech, empty of intent, that he was, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. He must confound his detractors and start the detailed, practical preparation for Copenhagen, and refute them thus!

And if you kick you heels together and say "there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home", then we all don't need to fly home for thanksgiving and hence can save the environment!

Sorry, words just fail me (hah!). The idea that the ultimate all-hat-and-no-cattle politician of the last 100 years will turn into the magician and save us all from our sins is childish at best.

Luck has it that this is the best that the watermelons have to offer to get their way: deus ex machina via Obama. To be honest, it's more than a tad insulting and it underscores really how pitiful the watermelons really are. Their time is running out. Obama has plenty of other problems to solve: pretending that he will be the savior in some exalted way is truly delusional.

Montag, November 24, 2008

How Science Can Work vs. How Science Should Work...

This is an interesting insight into how science can work.

Basically, two data sets that were in agreement turned out, as time went on, to be less and less in agreement. One pointed to cooling, the other pointed to warming.

So they "correct" one of the data sets.

Then they discover that reconstructed historical records didn't fit the model results.

So they fix the historical record. By using the "corrected" data sets.

Do you see the pattern here? I see an attempt to fit the data to models and to the expectations of the scientists involved.

This is an example of how science can work.

But it isn't an example of how science should work.

Freitag, November 21, 2008

On Failure And Recovery...

Two articles have led me to get out of the sickbed and write something (I'm down with a nasty bronchitis and have been coughing my lungs up over the last three days).

This brings out the distinction between economic bankruptcy and financial bankruptcy well: economic bankruptcy is where no one buys your products anymore; financial bankruptcy is when you've made some serious financial miscalculations and have to find a way out of your dilemma.

is related. It's the idea that no one knows what to do with the economy.

That's wrong.

It's just that no one wants to hear what has to be done, and the two are related. The latter is not limited to the US, either: the German pension system only function because a massive tax on gasoline consumption is partially siphoned off to pay not for the upkeep of the Autobahn, but to pay for the upkeep of senior citizens.

So, to the first: the Big 3 are, effectively, financially bankrupt for a number of reasons. Some are indirect (such as not being able to quickly change production to meet consumer demands), others are more direct, and can be simplified to two things: corporate fear and union greed. The Big 3 hate strikes and the corporate culture is built on making the unions happy so that there are no strikes; this means that the corporate culture of the Big 3 has become ossified, structurally inept, and incapable of rapidly adjusting to changes in the operating environment. The UAW has also been greedy, pushing up labor costs such that the Big 3 are no longer cost-effective producers. Productivity as explanation for very high wages goes only so far, especially in terms of actual labor input costs, which as a percentage of operative production can be very low: the problem lies not in the hourly wages, but rather the longer-term liabilities that the Big 3 have taken on in the name of labor peace.

I accuse these companies of corporate fear not just because they have taken on liabilities that any normal company would shy from, but also allow the unions to dictate not only employment levels, but, even worse, what products were to be made. The Big 3 cannot, effectively, build assembly lines that are highly flexible and capable of shifting product types within a period of several days (this is done by Magna in Graz, Austria: it can be done), but rather cannot change over without consulting the unions first. The UAW isn't interested in anything except one aspect of the Big 3: long-term protected employment of union members at higher-than-average wages.

That is the only thing that really matters to the UAW: it's what keeps them alive, it's the payback to the union members for ensuring high wage levels. According to the UAW, duea are two hours' pay per month, which at current average wage costs is about $50/member per month (based on average wage, without benefits, of $25/hour: with benefits, thise goes to $75/hour),. The idea that it pays to belong to the union isn't mine: it's the major argument of the UAW for membership. At the end of 2007, there were 464,910 union members: that means that the UAW has an income of over $23mn/month. They've got over $800mn in their strike account, and that sort of cash flow - $279mn/year - finances a lot of political activism and lobbying work.

That is why the UAW is so adamant about a taxpayer bail-out of the Big 3. But the UAW is caught between a rock and a very, very hard place: they are a big, very big, part of the problem. The Big 3 are very close to financial bankruptcy because their costs are too high and can't be reduced in a time when economic demand has dropped off significantly.

To get out of financial bankruptcy, you have to shed fixed costs to the point where you return to financial balance: this means, effectively, the end of the UAW.


But the pain doesn't end there.

That second link takes us to the idea that no one knows what to do about the economy. That is, politely put, balderdash.

To get the economy back on its feet, you have to to do only one thing: put more money into people's pockets. Not because they're going to spend it (a large number won't, but would rather at this point prefer to reduce their liabilities), but because it addresses one of the fundamental problems that the US has created for itself: too much government as a percentage of GDP.

Government spending (Federal, State and Local) as a percentage of GDP has been consistently over 30% since the late 1960s: this is the problem.

Now, I know all the arguments about this: that it's better than Europe or Japan, that it's okay because the economy is so big and can be afforded, that we can't put all those employees out of work, that we get a great return on the investment, yadda yadda yadda.

You think that there aren't any folks who don't profit from this? Of course there are. They're the ones who are pointing out what a great deal government is. They're the problem.


Now, given the fact that much government spending was set up in such a way as to ensure that it would always be there - these are called entitlements - this means that we have to tackle the entitlements in order to get government spending back below 30% of GDP and keep it there.

The best way to get government spending under control, historically, is to have a President who is a Democrat and a Legislature controlled by the Republicans: this is based on the empirical evidence. This is what the Republicans have to sell to the American people to get back control of the Senate and the House. It's not undoable: it's simply going to be very, very hard.

The problem with government spending is that it creates a positive reinforcement loop with the Congress. We now know how thouroughly corrupt Congress is - and I make no exceptions amongst parties here, but there are so many more Democrats here than Republicans - with "earmarks" and the millions in effective kickback contributions to re-election campaigns from the companies that benefit from the earmarks. The more a Congresscritter can generate in earmarks, the more money they're gonna get from the companies that benefit: this is the vicious cycle, the corrupting cycle that has to be broken.

But getting back to the idea that no one knows what to do about the economy: that's false. Rather, it's that no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, that the only thing the US government can do (besides offering cheap money, and we now know what that does to the economy (it creates bubbles that go pop)) is really to tax less AND spend less. Doing both goes against the grain, is going to be hard to explain to those who have lived high on government waste and inefficiency, and is going to be damned unpopular amongst the chattering classes of DC.

But it is what has to be done.

Where to start? First and foremost: a flat tax that means everyone pays a proportinal share of taxes. Not a VAT, not a "fair tax", but rather taking a look at national income and deciding that there is a maximum that anyone should be taxed, corporations included: given that national income + corporate profits are pretty much what GDP generates, this should be no more than 20%. Collected at the point of employment AND the point of disbursement for capital gains and income from capital: you, the taxpayer, never get your hands on that 20% to hide it in some tax shelter. Everyone pays this: the gal flipping burgers pays it just like the CEO of Burger King. And no playing with locations: if Burger King is headquartered in the US, then the CEO pays that tax, and his bonus isn't paid to an escrow account in a tax-shelter country, but has to be paid and taxed in the US. No exceptions.

Now, given that govenrment taxation as a percentage of GDP is over 30%, this means that we have achieved at least a 10% increase in personal disposable income, if not more. Local sales taxes will eat away at this, but that's a local problem that remains stubbornly so.

Now, the critics cry, what about government spending? Cutting tax revenues of over 10% will mean that government debt has to increase!

Well, that's one way of doing it. It's the wrong way.

The problem, to reiterate, is that the government at all levels has become too big and is spending too much money. Government spending, per definition, does not generate value: it spends the value that others have generated. It is spending too much of it, and that is why we are facing the problems we face today.

There are things government needs to do, and there are things that people want the government to do. The difference between the two is critical: there needs to be a public debate on what the latter really means, since that is where the source of the corruption lies. A political interest group that "persuades" politicians to finance pet projects will always corrupt the politicians: that is what lobbying is all about. It's always about what money will be spent to get what the special interest group wants done.

That is the core of the problem, and it also attacks the core of the chattering classes in DC, who live off the corruption process.

That is why lobbying must be open, public and a matter of record in a simple way: for each Congresscritter, there needs to be a public scoreboard of shame, informing everyone who financed their elections and who gets the earmarks, and how effective each Congresscritter is in terms of the ratio earmark/election contributions. Then people could see who really owns their Congresscritters and why.

Enough. I'm starting to ramble, the medications have kicked in. Back to coughing my lung up...,

Montag, November 17, 2008

The Banality of Evil...

Every nation has its deep, dark secrets. The things it's not proud of. There are no exceptions, just as every person has such secrets, such things that it doesn't want published for the world to see.

This is chilling.

If even only partially true, and the author agrees that there is a credibility problem, just as refugee Jews had credibility problems in the 1930s, then China has a lot of explaining to do. More exactly: the Chinese government.

The banality of evil has been well established: evil isn't only about those who actively harm and destroy, such as child rapists and molesters, or even about those who by force of character try to realize their twisted dreams, such as Hitler or Pol Pot. Evil can be extraordinarily ordinary, of those "just doing their jobs", deliberately clueless about what they did and do. This is what makes evil so perfidious: you don't have to be evil, corrupt and debased, to do evil. All you have to do is stop thinking and be that cog in the death machinery.

The article points out that this is something that no one wants to talk about in public.

Indeed no one does. That is part of the banality of evil: it's easier not to do good under these circumstances.

It's still wrong, and while it may hurt, it will also be necessary for China to understand what has happened in China, to account not just for the blind, raging and merciless whims of Mao, but also the sheer bloody-mindedness of his successors.

China has a lot to be proud of. But the success of today doesn't negate the errors of the past, nor can it permanently hide something that even the racial purists of the 1930s would have rejected.

Freitag, November 07, 2008

A View of Things To Come...

So, let get this straight.

According to this, one plan for "rescuing" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be to split them into the parts that do what the government should be doing and those parts that the market can do, and then selling of the market stuff.

Not too bad on the face of it.

But then it goes downhill from there.

The new administration will want to use that money to fund "Government affordable housing programs".

Two things wrong with that right off the bat.

1) The money from the bailout came from the taxpayers and should be returned to the taxpayers. It's not like the government has the money; they can only take it from taxpayers and those who buy government bonds (investors). What is happening instead is that they are going to use that huge chunk of change to permanently expand government presence in the market. Not good.

2) Don't think for a moment that this program will have enough funding. No government program ever does. This will turn from a one-off item to a permanent part of the budget, resulting in an expansion of government spending by multiple billions of dollars per year. In other words, a one-time expenditure is going to become a line item in the budget.

To quote from that link:

To many, Fannie's and Freddie's downfall confirms the conflicts inherent in their status as shareholder-owned companies with lucrative government ties. The firms' implicit government backing allowed them to borrow cheaply, spurring executives to take excessive risks in search of fat profits.

Still, that hybrid model will be tough to kill because it allows private capital to fund federal subsidies for homeownership, a cause dear to many politicians. Under a new federal housing law, a portion of Fannie's and Freddie's new business will be siphoned for an affordable housing trust fund pushed by Democrats.

In other words, the Democrats have not learned from their mistakes at all.

The Lesson of the Sub-Primes should be: do not interfere with markets for financial instruments when the government is on both sides of the equation and hence has a conflict of interest. One side wins and the taxpayer loses.

That lesson that the Democrats have not learned.

So, The Fun Begins...

Rahm Emanuel has been chosen by President-Elect Obama to be his chief of staff.

Who is Rahm Emanuel?

Well, he is a Democrat from the State of Illinois, the number 4 Democrat in the House of Representatives.

He is also considered one of the more ruthless Democratics in the House and is known for being zealously partisan. Fair enough: that's what the Democratic party, right now, is all about. It's part of the reason they won the election.

Now, the real question is: who sent Rahm Emanuel? If you don't understand that question, then you don't know how Chicago politics works, and understanding that will give you insight into the new administration, which will be heavily stacked with folks from Chicago where it matters (the core political group around the future President). This "who sent him" means nothing more than "Who does he get his money from?"

In Emanuel's case, it's Wall Street. See here.

Over the last six years, $1.5mn from the investment community, followed by lawyers and the entertainment industry. The money from the investment community should come as no surprise: he was, after all, an investment banker between his time with the Clintons and being elected to Congress.

Where was he an investment banker?

Now it gets interesting.

Clinton appointed him to the Board of Directors of Freddie Mac. Then he moved to Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, working on high-profile M&A, using the contacts he had made during the Clinton years. Why was he hired? The key word is Wasserstein: Bruce Wasserstein was one of Clinton's most active fundraisers. His client base at DKW was the Democrat's rich financial backers. His biggest deals were with politically connected utilities (such as a merger with the corporate parent of Commonwealth Edison, which is Chicago's utility company and heavily involved in Chicago politics, which are almost per definition Democratic politics). He is now a multi-millionaire and the 34th wealthiest member of the House of Representatives.

In other words, another Washington insider who used his connections to make millions.

This is the face of the new administration in Washington. This is the man who will be Obama's Chief of Staff. He's one of the people who got Freddie Mac into the trouble that they are in now.

Mittwoch, November 05, 2008

My Wish for the Country...

... is that the newly elected President Obama doesn't suffer the same fate that President Bush has.

Why do I put it that way?

Because of this, written by a Democrat, an investigative reporter and lawyer.

He's right. The last 8 years have been a disgrace.

But not for the reasons that many might think. Go read that article before anything else.

There are a lot of people out there who should be ashamed of themselves, but not only aren't, but have made careers for themselves, in the worst possible way.

And here a small credo for the next 4 years, having seen the wreckage that a partisan press has left behind it. Let's not even talk about the blogosphere. I don't think that I've been guilty of such behavior as listed below, but I am stating them here specifically as making it clear to readers here where I will continue to stand and to post:

I will not engage in thuggish behavior, substituting ad hominem arguments for rational discourse for the pleasure of venting anger and disappointment;

I will deal with the facts, not with conjecture and speculation;

I will lay out my arguments, work my way through them, and argue my position with logic and first principles;

Occam's Razor will be sharpened daily and applied ruthlessly: if the simpler explanation works, the complex explanation loses;

I will speak no evil except of evil.

This election marks the end of BDS as a political argument: there will be no ODS here; doesn't mean that I won't point out that the king has no clothes.

President Barack Obama...

Well, that didn't go well for either McCain or the Republicans.

Obama did the better job of campaigning.

Now we see if he can live up to the hype: this is where I have my very sincere doubts. That's why I didn't vote for him.

But he is the President, invested with that Office, and that's that.

As President, he will have my support.

But not my blind obedience.