THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 601 December View 14 - 20, 2009
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December 14, 2009
Over in mail there are two messages from people who were involved in taking climate readings, and a lengthy message on data accuracy. According to my correspondent:
Emphasis mine. Note that 70% of the data have estimated errors of 2 degrees or more. in 1895 Arrhenius predicted an "extra" 2 degrees from a doubling of CO2 in the 20th Century. Note also that the adjustments to the data can bring about that large a difference.
I continue to hold the conclusion that we need to take some of the climate research funding and hand it to the credentialed climate deniers, asking them to challenge the consensus. There are trillions at stake. At the risk of tedious repetition, I say again that when faced with expensive alternative remedies to coming events, it is almost always best policy to spend money on reducing uncertainties rather than on undertaking the remedies. There can be special circumstances of emergencies, but we don't have those: the best remedies we can take will at enormous expense make not a lot of difference in 80 years.
Wouldn't it be better to look into ways to reduce pollution -- none of us are big fans of increased methane, soot, and other such stuff into the atmospheres, but it is folly to expect that China and India will reduce their race to become developed countries. I said forty years ago that much of the Green argument is seen by Africa, China, and India as the equivalent of saying tp them "Now that you guys have a seat at the table, the game is over. Have a nice life."
Wouldn't it be better to look into engineering ways?
And my remedy to most of our problems, including climate and the economy, is: energy. Give us enough energy and we can reduce pollutants to their constituent elements. Take the TARP money and build nuclear power plants. They can be run by the TVA or sold at public auction once built; I'll leave that debate for the future. But for now, tell the US Army to GO BUILD US SOME POWER PLANTS. Tell the Justice Department to CONSOLIDATE THE LAW SUITS AND EXPEDITE THE DECISIONS.
If we'd done that starting September 12, 2001, we wouldn't be in the trouble we're in now. Alas, I expect I'll be saying this about December 14, 2009 ten years from now. Alas.
There is also a pile of mail about web site changes, too much for me to post; I'll try to put in a summary some other time. The overwhelming consensus is that it ain't broke so don't fix it. Several did say they find topic headings useful, and I have taken that to heart. And one note asked for some changes in the Mail navigation; I have done a quick implementation of that suggestion, and I'd like comments on whether there is any reason not to do that for all of them in future. Indeed, would it help with View to have a way to jump back to previous days as a floating set of commands at the bottom of the day? (See this week's mail page to see what I am talking about.) I don't intend to make many changes, but I will try to do more headers.
My real regret here is that a lot of stuff is pretty good, but gets scattered over days to weeks, and I haven't the time to concentrate it into one page on each subject. But then a day book always has that problem. Every now and then I do try to consolidate arguments and make a single essay on a subject, but I can't always do that.
For those who suggested that I spend more time on TWiT, that's not my decision. I'm willing to be on more, and I've set things up so that I can see a computer screen while remaining in focus on camera, but Leo has to invite me, and he's pretty busy.
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Yesterday's Wall Street Journal has a worthwhile article about the District of Columbia's education system and some dramatic improvements. "Who's Got Michelle Rhee's Back" is worth your attention. Key paragraph:
In other words, she's doing what everyone knows has to be done: the best single "reform" of school systems is to get rid of incompetent teachers and principals. This won't do a lot to solve the greatest problem of our school system, to wit the wasting of our bright kids, but it will make dramatic improvements in the test scores and raise averages for the lower half of the bell curve, and that's the second biggest problem we have; and it can be argued that bad piblic education for the half of the population that's below average is really our biggest problem. (Really bright kids tend to find ways to learn despite the system.)
Just about everyone who has thought about the education problem understands that if we had a system that automatically eliminated the worst 5% of the teachers every year, our schools would be enormously better. Shaving off the worst 10% would be even more effective. The effects of getting rid of bad teachers are dramatic: good teachers feel more wanted. Classroom and overall school discipline improves dramatically. The example of incompetents being coddled is removed, having an unknown but almost certainly beneficial effect on the future.
I have always said that if Congress really wants to improve American Education, the proper method would be to make the DC Schools the best in the nation; the States would follow by example, and there would be no need for a Federal education bureaucracy. Show us what education theory and Professors of Education can do! We'll follow your lead. Of course Ms. Rhee hasn't done that: DC is still way down in school ratings, but at least it's no longer rock bottom (Detroit has that honor). Congress has the undoubted Constitutional authority to structure the DC schools any way it wants, and to fund them directly. If the Department of Education truly knows how to make schools better, it has only to show us how.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rhee has made a beginning. And the question arises, who is watching her back as the teacher's unions seek to plant daggers between her shoulder blades? Never forget: as structured at present, the American education system operates for the benefit of (1) union officials, (2) bad teachers, (3) average teachers, in that order. It "protects" us from merit pay for good teachers, and from firing bad teachers.
Gates concentrates on finding, identifying, and rewarding the best teachers, and has little to say about ridding the system of its worst teachers (for obvious reasons; he's trying to get something accomplished). It's harder find materials on the improvements you get from getting rid of bad teachers, but there are some. And even the Washington Post is becoming aware:
and the subject is discussed with some rationality in
Samuelson was one of the most influential people of the 20th Century; his economics textbook was the only economics encountered by a large part of two generations of college educated people. The notion that the national debt didn't matter a lot because "we owe it to ourselves" didn't originate with him, but the view was prominent in the early editions of his book.
I once had dinner with him. Peter De Lucca, a professor at Thomas Aquinas University was at the same table; after dinner Peter said to me "But he's a civilizational monster!" He based that largely on the then waning but still existing view of national debt as unimportant because "we owe it to ourselves." Samuelson over the years began to be concerned about the national debt, and the last editions of his overwhelmingly popular textbook are far less damaging than the earlier ones; he was a very smart man, and he did take account of the real world -- sometimes. He never did understand that the Soviet Command Economy wasn't working, and my encounters with him were mostly as a result of Possony's assertion that the Soviets were spending some 30% + of their GDP on their military, its equipment, and military R&D; Samuelson was adamant that they couldn't be spending more than 16%, and furthermore that their command economy was working. He held that view so far as I know until the day the Wall came down, and perhaps longer.
There is a good (and short) appreciation in today's Wall Street Journal.
December 16, 2009
Actually there are those who say December 17 is Beethoven's birthday, but Lucy and Schroeder celebrate the 16th so we'll go with that.
Big Science is stunned. People no longer have blind faith in Science -- which may mean that the whole grant system is in danger. The reach of Climategate lengthens.
One of the opening moves in Big Science's countergame was in today's Los Angeles Times: "Climate change e-mail scandal underscores myth of pure science" by Daniel Sarewitz and Samuel Thernstrom. It basically says that science is fallible and full of politics -- surprise!" and concludes:
In other words, it's really all right. Ignore ClimateGate and get on with the Copenhagen Treaty. Preserve our grants, continue to pay tribute to Al Gore, and yes, there's some doubt but it's OK to go on spending trillions in "prudent action against climate change." I should note that Samuel Thernstrom is an AEI Fellow and has written several worthwhile articles on the subject: it's one reason I am amazed at this article.
My own views have not changed: of course science is not unitary, of course there is politics including dirty tricks and outright lying, faking data, character assassination, invocation of police and military power to suppress opposition -- and none of that changes the rules, which are that scientists when they are being scientists should welcome opposition hypotheses, and must account for all the data, not just that which favors their own positions. Of course most of the time scientists are not acting like scientists. They are acting like advocates, or sometimes like politicians. When they do, they should have no more credibility than lawyers and politicians. I covered all this years ago in The Voodoo Sciences.
Because scientists do not often act like scientists and often act more like bureaucrats, it is important to set up counter-bureaucracies when the subject matter is funded by public money (controlled by a bureaucracy) and the outcome is important to public spending. I am a supporter of the National Science Foundation, but I want it reformed: I want 10% of its budget devoted to funding contrarian science that challenges existing consensus. That should be done through establishment of a funded bureaucracy dedicated to finding and funding such challenges.
Today's LA Times has an article I can't find on line. The title was "Copenhagen talks at crucial stage" and it was by a reporter named Tankersley. The article isn't important, but it included a large chart of the world temperature from 1880 to present, purporting to show the data from all three climate record centers. Naturally they don't diverge much, and the warming trend is obvious. Yep, there's Global Warming all right! No need to worry about Climategate. Here's the data.
Closer examination shows that in 1880 the Earth's
temperature was 0.2 degrees C below some normal set to 0 -- I couldn't see
any absolute value for that -- and in 2000 it was about + 0.4, and in 2010
about + 0.5. This means -- assuming you believe in global temperature
accuracies to tenths of a degree -- that the Earth experienced a warming of
0.7 degree C over the last century. That's 9/5 x 0.7 = 1.3 degrees F. I
believe the NOAA contribution to that chart is here:
The reference or 0 year seems to be the temperature from about 1950 to 1970. I am sure there's a good reason for choosing that. The chart also shows there's been more warming since 1950 than there was from 1880 to then.
You can believe as much of that as you want to. You can believe that the last few years have been the warmest in human memory. It's still only 1.3 degrees F over the past hundred years, but of course the fright comes from that hockey stick spike from about 1980 to present. How real is that spike? That, I would think, is the real matter for debate. But do note that nowhere in these data is the 2 degree "extra" warming Arrhenius thought would result from doubling CO2 in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, it's cold out there in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the area around the temperature sensor at the Santa Monica Airport has gone from rural to urban heat island, and some people wonder a lot about the accuracy of those numbers; and in Copenhagen everyone is demanding "climate reparations" from the United States and Europe, and never mind the costs. Do the data justify that? Are the "developing" nations worse off now because the West thrived? No matter. It's time to pay reparations and take measures to wreck the Western economies.
I was wandering through some of my older files and found there are two different "reports" folders. The main one has a very large variety of reports, many of them still relevant, and if you have the time a few minutes looking at what's available might be worth your while. There is also an older reports folder which leads to some photo-journalism reports, including a walk through the hills above Studio City, and two walks in Tokyo. There's other interesting stuff. It's clear I need to spend some time organizing this mess. It's also clear I won't be doing that for a while.
The President emptied out a Home Depot store in order to make room for invited guests and his teleprompter. Interestingly enough, the LA Daily News has an account of this, but today's LA Times has no mention of it at all. I am not sure why; is the Times embarrassed? But the President used the opportunity to call insulation sexy, and exhort us all to caulk our windows, insulate our attics, and save energy.
He told us that $8 billion of the $787 billion TARP funds will go to stimulating such activities. I didn't catch on to how that will work. According to the President, homes and offices consume ~ 40% of the US energy budget, and our older homes are 50% less efficient than the new ones, and this is an easy patch on out energy problems.
Perhaps so: but I'd be happier if he took $700 billion of that TARP money, and gave half to the US Corps of Engineers and the other half to the US Navy, and ordered them to build nuclear power plants. The Navy gets the sea coastal cities. The Army gets the interior. Let them compete to see who can produce the most power with the money they've been allocated.
Energy plus freedom = jobs and economic recovery. Nuclear energy adds no CO2 or other pollutants to the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the entire background of the Boston Tea Party, including what was special about the American Revolution -- which was based on demanding the rights of Free Englishmen as gained in the great Bill of Rights following the Glorious Revolution -- is important, and very nearly lost. I agree it's an important event but only if understood in its context. I am hardly a fan of mob violence as an ordinary political action. Having said that, I suspect that had I lived then, it would depend on my age as to whether I would have dressed up in Indian costume and taken part in the rebellion.
The Colonies wanted defense but didn't want to pay taxes for it; and wanted expansion to the west, which made that defense necessary. After Braddock's defeat in 1755 and subsequent French expansion, the British gained control of most of the west in the Seven Year's War, known here as the French and Indian War. With the removal of the French from much of the continent the need for taxes and defense wasn't so clear to the Colonies. Why should the Parliament at Westminster be supreme over Virginia and New England?
Alas, we haven't time to continue this ramble. I agree it's an important date. I just wish that our schools taught the history in which it took place.
December 17, 2009
Tom Coburn, physician and congresscritter, has a worthwhile op ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal called "The Health Care Bill is Scary". He's right, of course. What we have is a $750 a year premium for the right to buy the best health care policy in existence when you get sick. That is, you either have to have health care or pay $750 a year in fines. For young people who aren't sick the obvious strategy is to pay that, and if they get sick immediately go out and buy the most comprehensive health care policy available -- they can't deny you coverage for previous conditions.
Of course there's the problem that there may not be any available policies once this is in place. We can be sure government will take care of that with subsidies and the like.
Clearly this is going to be costly. Just how costly I don't know, but costly. Add war costs, TARP, and the other coming costs. It happens that I got this in today's mail:
It seems relevant.
Talk radio is abuzz with something we've known a long time and mentioned before: the banks have little incentive to make risky loans. They get to borrow money at essentially zero interest rates (there are some costs associated with the borrowing but they don't amount to 0.5%). Then the government, to raise the money, must borrow by selling Treasury Bonds. These pay 3.5% on a ten year bond. The banks buy those bonds so that the government will have the money to meet its obligations -- including loaning money to banks at essentially zero interest rate. Now 3.5% guaranteed profit isn't all that much, but it's nice work if you can get it, and you can probably get a small bonus for getting that work for your bank. You won't get much of a bonus if you loan money to a risky startup that goes under for lack of capital.
You and I, not being banks, can't take advantage of any of that, alas. We can't get any 3.5% on our certificates of deposit. Ah, well. I hear on the radio that mortgage refinance rates are now 3.75% APR for fixed rates, so if you have a large mortgage this might be a good time to look into your options.
Will there always be an England?
The net is abuzz with it. It was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. You can buy commercial software that lets you watch what the drones in Pakistan are seeing.
It's also clear that the insurgents know all about this, since drone view scenes were found on a captured laptop. They can see what the operators see, and the data have been going out unencrypted from the first days of the drones.
It's a bit early to comment on this; there's too much furor going on. So far we haven't seen any evidence of actual harm done, but you can't be sure. It's pretty clear that no one has hacked into the control systems. If I wanted to harm the US and I could do that, it would be hard to resist the temptation to steer one of the drones into a hospital or an orphanage. There are certainly Catholic orphanages in Pakistan. Great target. Kills infidels, and makes it look like the US did it.
I think I'll let the furor die out before really looking into this. I do point out that Possony and I have been warning the Pentagon that "primitive" insurgents can be very sophisticated. In 1965 in Project 75 we recommended on-board guidance computers for ICBM because mid-course correction from an external source was a terrible vulnerability for the ICBM. The principle is the same for all these unmanned systems.
Pakistan and Mexico are the two most unstable countries of the world (of any size, anyway). Is Pakistan in the throes of a coup? They have nukes. Interesting...
December 18, 2009
"Angry Liberals Edge Toward a Mutiny" says the Wall Street Journal.
Our masters have spoken. The King of the Iron Law Bureaucrats, Andy Stern, has told us what we must do. Get busy and pass that health care bill! Be sure there's a public option!
The true rule of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd is at stake. Get with it.
Actually, the health care bill looks to be a Democrat suicide pact. It's all less popular now than it was when Hillarycare delivered the House of Representatives to Republicans for the first time since Harry Truman. There hasn't been a greater opportunity for Republicans in lifetimes. Of course after Hillarycare we had Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, and a party organized to take advantage of opportunities. Today we're not so fortunate. Newt was a great Speaker, and his resignation was the biggest Party disaster I know of. He would never have allowed the crazy "big government conservatism" that destroyed the Party while allowing the government's cash infusions into real estate to drive the housing bubble. Yes, of course, the original expansions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were done under Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, but the Republicans did little to nothing to restrain that madness, and didn't do anything about the insanities of Credit Default Swaps. Republicans didn't do anything about the evil ratings companies (whose approval is still written into the law). Neither did the Democrats.
Even so, the opportunities are here. Dodd is vulnerable. Reid is vulnerable. The Democrat majorities are fragile. I will leave it to Democrats to see if they can revive the old Democrat Party. The question is, can the Republicans revive their Party? Are there any leaders who can build a new coalition?
What's at stake is the whole future of the American experiment of putting freedom and liberty ahead of security and welfare. "We believe that each man is the best judge of his own interest." That's what's at stake. This may be the last opportunity for that view of the world.
If the Republicans can't get their act together -- and I haven't seen all that many signs that they can -- then we may very well end up with Barney Frank's America, with Value Added Tax, the country run largely for the benefit of the officers of the Service Employees International Union, and a full cradle to the grave welfare state tottering on the edge of bankruptcy; something that can't really be dismantled without a full collapse and another Great Depression.
Energy and Freedom produce wealth. That's astonishingly obvious. Whether we can get there from here is another story. That view isn't very popular with the current Republican leadership.
Third parties aren't the answer. The majority of Americans are Center-Right in outlook, and most believe in freedom. It's true in both parties. It would be fine if we could Take Back Our Government, but first shouldn't we take back our Parties?
If you heard Obama's speech in Copenhagen, you must have bee struck by its contrast with Obama's campaign speeches: where was the fire, conviction, or even enthusiasm? Why is Obama suddenly so flat? He got polite applause, but little enthusiasm -- as indeed he showed no enthusiasm.
One simple explanation is that he is no longer a believer: he actually heard and paid attention to what went on after Climategate, saw that shorn of the manipulations there is actually little global warming, and that the "scientific consensus" is actually a conspiracy of people whose grants and interests are at stake. He may well continue to believe that the counter evidence was mostly financed by oil companies and thus suspect, but he has been struck by the evidence that this is true of the climate change consensus.
He also has no money to spend. The Chinese don't want him to borrow more money from them to give to other nations -- including China's rivals, like India.
And finally, he may have found that if we do everything that Copenhagen proposes, the actual effect on Earth's climate will be small at best -- and that's assuming that adjustments and effects are needed.
Of course this is wild conjecture on my part. There's no real evidence that Obama is even aware of Climategate, much less that he has actually looked at the evidence. Still, he's an intelligent man. He's insulated from most news sources, but surely he watches some television and reads at least one newspaper, and someone must have at least mentioned Climategate. He's certainly capable of understanding the implications of building consensus by manipulating peer review. He's certainly capable of understanding that the NOAA data actually show a real climate change of 0.2 C between 1880 and 1940, and another 0.5 C from 1940 to present. That's less than the 2 degrees Arrhenius predicted (in 1895) that doubling CO2 would add to the warming trend already in effect since the Medieval Warm. Obama can look at the evidence. He can understand it. And if he had previously been an actual enthusiast, believing in the consensus, and now the scales have fallen from his eyes, the lack of enthusiasm in his big speech before the world leaders is explained. He's in a trap. He can't acknowledge his enlightenment.
Of course if he remains a true believer** he might still be discouraged; the country is broke, the Copenhagen measures won't do much for the climate and will add enormously to the US deficit while putting primary hampers on the economy -- there's little to be enthusiastic about in the Copenhagen conference whatever you may believe about global warming.
North Face to sue South Butt. Stay tuned.
** The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, is one of those books that everyone interested in understanding human events ought to have read. It's not perfect, but it is one of the books I consider important in my development. Hoffer was a left wing longshoreman as well as a political thinker and writer.
December 19, 2009
Dan O'Bannon, RIP.
I took the rest of the day off.
December 20, 2009
.I took the day off.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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