Archive for April 2007

A Question for Women's Groups

I don't have any particularly intelligent analysis of the SCOTUS's upholding the constitutionality of a partial birth abortion ban, so I won't offer any.

However, I have a question for women's groups.  Groups like NOW support the federal government's constitutional right to ban breast implants,and in fact call for such a ban on the NOW web site.  Simultaneously, they oppose the federal government's constitutional right to ban partial birth abortions.

My question is:  How can you reconcile these two views?  Aren't these two procedures similar enough (both are elective medical procedures that are invasive of a woman's body) to be Constitutionally identical?  I understand that from a social conservative's point of view that the abortion procedure might warrant more legal attention if you believe there is a second life (ie the fetus) involved here.  But how do you justify that the feds should have more power to regulate and ban boob jobs than they have to ban one type of abortion?  And please, don't justify it because you think abortion is serious but breast implants are frivolous  Those are legislative and political arguments about what should and should not be done with the fed's power, not Constitutional arguments about what that power actually is.

The women's groups' application of their "its our body" and "pro-choice" positions have always struck me as incredibly selective.  It's a woman's choice to weigh the risks and benefits of an abortion, but apparently it's the government's choice to weight the risks and benefits of breast implants.  I wrote more about this selective libertarianism when I made a plea for applying the privacy and choice logic of abortion supporters to all aspects of government regulation.  I criticized NOW for another instance of selective libertarianism associated with government and women's bodies when NOW supported having the government limit a woman's choice to use Vioxx to relieve pain.

A Campaign for They

Here's the deal:  We need a gender-neutral third person pronoun.  I am tired of all the awkward constructions I have to concoct to use his or her in a grammatically correct and gender neutral fashion. 

I fully support the use of "they" and "their" as singular third-person pronouns, as in "Each person should bring their pencil" rather than "Each person should bring his or her pencil."  Unfortunately, this is not correct grammar today, so I just spent a few hours purging they's and their's from a draft novel.  However, English is a language that has always been open-source and bottom-up (in contrast to French).  Usages such as this tend to work their way into the language, as dictionary writers for the English language have generally considered themselves catalogers of the English-that-is rather than dictators of the English-that-should-be  (the book the Professor and the Madman is highly recommended).

XKCD took on this topic a while back
.

Instalanches are So Last Year

It used to be that Instalanches were the gold standard for blowing out your server bandwidth.  An Instalanche occurred when Glenn Reynolds (or one of the other super-large bloggers) pointed his enormous traffic to an article of interest in some small blog.  The results were sortof like hooking your transistor radio to a high-tension power line.  This was the traffic chart from my first instalanche.

Today, most of my huge traffic spikes come when an article of mine moves up high on reddit or stumbleupon or del.icio.us  (I don't remember ever getting much from digg).  Right now my article on water pricing is on the front page of reddit, and the traffic spike is enormous. 

What Do We Know and How Well Do We Know It

"Consensus" is an absurd word to apply to science.  It is more accurate to say that we have a series of hypotheses about the universe with varying levels of confidence.  LuboÅ¡ Motl has a post to get all you physics geeks arguing:  His estimate of the probability certain hypotheses about the universe are correct.  Some examples:

  • 99.999% - String theory is a mathematically consistent theory
    including quantum gravity, even non-perturbatively, at least in some
    highly supersymmetric vacua
  • 99.999% - General relativity
    correctly predicts phenomena such as frame dragging and classical
    gravitational waves in the real world
  • 99.995% - Black holes exist  ...
  • 60% - At very high energy scales, a GUT theory with unified gauge
    interactions becomes more natural zeroth approximation: GUT is correct
  • 50% - Supersymmetry will be found at the LHC
  • 40%
    - The Hartle-Hawking wavefunction or its generalization that will
    require the author(s) to cite Hartle and Hawking correctly predicts
    non-trivial features of the initial conditions of the Universe...
  • 0.0001% - Loop quantum gravity, with the metric as the only and
    well-defined degree of freedom and with quantized area, is a correct
    description of gravity in the real world at the Planck scale
  • 0.00001%
    - One of the ESP phenomena measured in the Princeton lab actually
    exists and can be measured again with a similar equipment

Many more here.

Here are some of my own:

  • 95% - Probability that the Raiders, Browns, and Lions will all botch their first draft picks next weekend
  • 85% - Probability someone will introduce legislation in Congress in the next 7 days in direct response to the Va Tech shooting rampage
  • 80% - Probability that man-made CO2 is contributing a non-zero effect to global temperature
  • 70% - Probability that Barry Bonds will break the home run record this season
  • 60% - Probability that Prince Charles will ever serve as King of England
  • 50% - Probability that all-electric vehicles will make up more than 10% of the auto market in the US in ten years
  • 5% - Probability that man-made CO2 will contribute more than 2 degrees C warming in the next 50 years
  • 5% - Probability of meaningful earmark reform getting passed in Congress
  • 5% - Probability that ethanol or other bio fuels will make any measurable reduction in oil imports.
  • 1% - Probability that the costs of CO2 reduction will be less than the benefits of CO2 reduction
  • 1% - Probability that a true libertarian candidate will be elected president in the next 20 years

In Any Other Context, This Would Be Quackery

I am reading a speech by Michael Mann, the author of the now famous climate hockey stick, which has been criticized by statisticians and climatologists alike.  In particular, I am fascinated by the claim that "there is a 95 to 99% certainty that 1998 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years."

Forgetting the problems with his analysis, and forgetting all the other evidence that we have that in the Medieval warm period, the earth was probably hotter than it was today, just look at that sentence on its face.  Is there any other context where we would take a scientists near certainty about the value of a climate variable 500 years before man even started measuring it as anything but quackery?  If there was a way to reasonably bet against the proposition that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium, I would do so even as a 1:1 proposition, but would leap at the chance to take the bet at 20:1 or 100:1 odds, which is essentially what Mann is proposing when he says he is 95-99 percent certain.

I Can Fix the Water "Shortage" in Five Minutes

Apparently the next "crisis" is that America is running out of water.  This is mostly an issue in the west, where growth is high and fresh water is rarer than in the east.  Here is one example of the brewing panic:

The growing human population is creating cities where desert or scrub
land used to be. Rainfall always has been and always will be in short
supply. Only so much water can be diverted from rivers to satisfy the
water needs of these desert dwellers. The aquifers are being drained.
Soon there will be demands to divert water from large inland lakes like the Great Lakes which would put those bodies of water in peril.

Oh my god, I can see it now - fish flopping on the muddy exposed bottom of Lake Michigan.

Look, the problem is not lack of water.  The problem is lack of market sanity.  Water in the west is regulated and sold in a hodge-podge of complex arrangements and negotiations.   The whole system is too complex to describe here, but at least one general conclusion can be safely drawn about the whole system:  Water is under-priced.   

For reference, lets look at my home city.  If building cities in the desert is the new evil, then I live in that great Satan called Phoenix.  And while my electricity charges are enough to get my attention (higher efficiency AC: check; compact fluorescent bulbs: check; solar: still too expensive), my water bill seldom grabs my focus.   

And now I know why.  Check out this analysis, conducted apparently by the city of Austin but which I found on the Portland Water Bureau's web site:

City Monthly cost for water service of 8,500 gallons
Memphis, Tennessee $14.16
Phoenix, Arizona $16.27
Charlotte, North Carolina $17.52
Dallas, Texas $20.04
Austin, Texas $23.15
Portland, Oregon $23.44
Louisville, Kentucky $23.47
Houston, Texas $26.49
Milwaukee, Wisconsin $27.86
East Bay MUD, Oakland, California $31.13
Atlanta, Georgia $33.60
San Diego, California $37.52
Seattle, Washington $39.75

Can you believe it?  We here in Phoenix, out in the middle of the largest desert on the continent, during a multi-year drought (yes you can still have a drought in the desert), while everyone laments that Lake Powell and other reservoirs are getting sucked dry, Phoenix has one of the lowest water prices of any city in the country.  Can you get over the irony of Seattle having some of the highest priced water in the country and Phoenix the lowest?

And you know what - I have not seen a single article in any of our local media that has once mentioned this fact.  Look here -- the articles blame global warming and lack of conservation and development and too many lawns and not enough low-flow faucets and talk about the need for government rationing, but never once mention PRICE.  We have the scarcest water in the country and one of the lowest prices for water.  Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.  I should have just labeled this post "Duh!"

And these are the consumer water prices.  The situation actually gets worse when you look at agriculture.  In most of the southwest, farmers get water prices subsidized below the rates paid by ordinary consumers.  When you combine these water subsidies with massive subsidies already rich groups get for growing crops in the desert from farm programs, you get an enormous distorted incentive to grow water-hungry crops that are totally inappropriate for the desert.

So here is my five minute plan:  We may be a ways away from creating an actual market in water, but in the mean time, the quasi-governmental agencies providing it need to raise the prices (to everyone) up to a level that demand matches supply.  More conservation will occur, and marginal commercial, residential, and agricultural development will disappear.  If the price goes high enough, someone may even go out and find a new, innovative source of water for the area. 

Unfortunately, this is just too dang easy, and, from reading recent articles in the media, not even in the menu of options being considered.  Government bureaucrats are much more comfortable with rationing and limitations on development, because it gives them more power and creates a new set of winners and losers who will donate more to future political campaigns.

Update: Daniel Mitchell at Cato has similar thoughts, based on water shortages in Florida of all places:

So here we are, in the spring of 2007, with rain below
average, with a low lake level, little else in the way of reservoirs,
and a water shortage. What is the response? Well, a rational response
might be to price a scarce commodity such that people will use it only
as they need it, and not frivolously. "¦Instead, we get the response of
the local commissars. So, not allowing the market to work, and not
allowing prices to provide signals to the participants, they have
decided to run our lives for us.

"¦I live at an odd numbered address. That means that if I want to
water my lawn, I can only do it on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday
mornings, from four to eight AM. I can water my plants with a hose on
the same days, but only between five and seven PM. My neighbors across
the street, and behind my house on the next block, get Sunday, Tuesday
and Thursday.

"¦Over thirty years ago, in the first OPEC oil embargo, the
government, rather than allowing prices to rise to account for the
reduced supply, told people when they could purchase gas based on the
parity of their license plate "” even one day, odd the next. My
recollection was that this did nothing to alleviate the shortage "” the
lines remained. The problem was only solved when Nixon-era price
controls on oil were lifted, the market was allowed to work, and oil
prices eventually (and it didn't take all that long) fell to historical
lows.

"¦[H]ere's a radical concept. How about pricing the commodity to the
market? Maybe, if people had to pay more for water to water their lawn,
they'd use less of it? Yes, I know that it's hard to believe, but there
really are some people out there who buy less of something if the price
is higher.

Update #2: The more I think of it, the more this situation really ticks me off.  In their general pandering and populism, politicians are afraid to raise water prices, fearing the decision would be criticized.  So, they keep prices artificially low, knowing that this low price is causing reservoirs and aquifers to be pumped faster than their replacement rate.  Then, as the reservoirs go dry, the politicians blame us, the consumers, for being too profligate with water and call for ... wait for it ... more power for themselves, the ones whose spinelessness is the root cause of the problem, to allocate and ration water and development.

A Nation of Slaveholders

With the northern victory in the Civil War, and the subsequent passage of the 13th amendment, slavery was formally ended in this country.  Specifically, the 13th amendment stated:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for
crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist
within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, over a century later, slavery has returned to the United States.  Today, through the exercise of political power and the redistribution of wealth that should never have been Constitutional, 55% of Americans hold the other 45% in bondage, living off the product of their efforts just as surely as the white plantation owners of the Old South lived off the sweat of their African slaves.  The basis for this new servitude, however,  is not race, or religion, or national origin, but productivity. (via TJIC)

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Slightly over half of all Americans - 52.6 percent - now receive
significant income from government programs, according to an analysis
by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That's up from 49.4
percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If
the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass
55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President's Reagan's
move to scale back the size of government.

Meanwhile, Ari Fleischer writes in today's WSJ (sub req) that the
top 1% of income earners pay 37% of total income taxes, the top 10% of
income earners pay 71% of total income taxes, and the top 40% of income
earners pay 99% of total income taxes.

The latter analysis is a bit off because it does not include payroll taxes, but if you include these taxes you still have under 50% of Americans paying virtually all the taxes (table at top of this page includes payroll taxes

The second greatest failing of the Constitution as originally drafted (the first being legality of slavery) is the lack of clear protections for property and commerce.  As a result, the only protection we have against full confiscation of everything we own is the whim of the electorate.  Now that a clear majority of voters are on the receiving end of money confiscated from a minority of voters, how good is this last protection? 

We have become a nation of slaveholders, with the majority holding the productive minority in bondage.  Inserting government in the middle of this process as an agent, so the recipients of this slave labor don't have to get their own hands dirty, does not change the nature of the relationship one bit.  It just pretties things up for our conscience.

Update:  Is the word "slavery" over the top?  Maybe, and I guess I could be accused of trivializing the true horrors of African slavery in the 19th century.  So substitute the word "serfdom" for "slavery". 

No Free Stuff For Our Consumers!

Arizona is taking another typical step to protect incumbent businesses against new competitors:

"Arizona regulators have ordered a Seattle-based online home price estimator to stop doing business in the state." Zillow.com
has won wide popularity by applying algorithms to publicly available
data to come with rough estimates of the value of existing homes, which
it makes available for free through its site. The Arizona Board of
Appraisal says that Zillow should not be dispensing such information
without an appraiser's license.

Gee, we'd hate to give people the impression that a whole profession could be replaced by a few computer algorithms and some data base lookups.   I am not sure why, historically, but state governments have an incredible propensity to protect everyone in the real estate field from competition.  For years they have enforced licensing on real estate agents to help support that cartel that the Internet is only just now starting to break up.

By the way, here is another way you could write the headline for this news:  "Arizona Bans Giveaways.  Consumers Must Pay for Everything."  Oh, and my neighbor just sold his house.  The final price he got was within 4% of the Zillow estimate.  I will say that from the houses I am familiar with, they do a pretty good job (though I am sure they make mistakes, for example in neighborhoods with a lot of gentrification and a mix of old and new homes). 

I'm Not Sure I Understand This

One of the difficulties that climate scientists face is that it is not that easy to come up with a single global temperature.  Before satellites, with limited measurement points and 75% of the world under water, global temperature is not much more than a guess.  With satellites, the job is easier but not wholly straight-forward.

Spencer and Christy have been using NASA data for a while to try to compute a global temperature, and have released new results  (the top graph is the whole earth, the second is the northern hemisphere, the third is the southern hemisphere):

Sattelite_temps

The first oddity is one that the climate community struggles with but downplays in public.  It is that increases in these tropospheric measurements should be, if the theory of CO2-based anthropogenic global warming is correct, higher than temperature increases observed on the ground.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  Why ground temperatures increases should be higher than troposphere increases is something no explained by the standard greenhouse models (but is explained by alternatives).

The second oddity is the difference between the northern and southern hemispheres.  As you can observe, there really has not been any warming in the last decades in the south.  Why should that be?  One might assume it is because CO2 is produced mainly in the northern hemisphere, but my understanding is that scientists a while back determined that there was incredibly good mixing in the atmosphere and that CO2 concentrations don't vary that much around the globe.  I know that the northern hemisphere tends to have more temperature variability at the ground, since it has more land and land heats and cools faster than over the sea, but I am not sure this is sufficient to explain the difference.

What Ails the Media

Newsweek:

The press needed there to have been a rape to keep the story going. It
was much too dull to consider that the lacrosse players deserved the
presumption of innocence.

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun, as I am sure you could find the same problem 100 years ago.  But it does give one perspective when the MSM tries to go all high and mighty on us, particularly the always arrogant NY Times, which cheer-led the virtual lynching and went out of its way to prop up the failing DA's case when nearly everyone else was starting to see the holes in it.  The Rutgers basketball team got an apology from the media figure that slighted them.  Don't expect the same treatment for the Duke boys.

State-Run Companies and Investment, Part 3

One of the urban legends of the civics world is that is some project really requires investment for the long-term, the government needs to do it since private companies are too short-term profit focused. 

Over a series of posts, I have been showing just how terrible state run companies are at making long-term investments compared to private companies.   I showed the Mexican state oil company eschewing investment in favor of bloated patronage-based payrolls and social spending, and the nationalized Venezuelan companies doing the same thing.  What you see in both cases is that the state run oil companies are particularly bad at making investments to maintain production, investments that can be huge in the oil business.  Leftists have convinced themselves that oil companies make a fortune with little or no work, that oil extraction is kind of like clipping coupons.  But the maintenance of any infrastructure is hugely expensive, and takes a discipline and focus that the state does not have.  Belatedly, some of them are learning that producing oil takes real work and constant re-investment.  It bizarrely reminds me of Carl talking to Vernon in the Breakfast Club:
"You took a teaching position, 'cause you thought it'd be fun, right?
Thought you could have summer vacations off...and then you found out it
was actually work...and that really bummed you out"

But I don't want to imply that this is just a poor-country, banana republic problem.  Defenders of big government in the US will say that government can do all these things just fine, if only you have the right people in charge.  But under-investment in public assets, particularly in refurbishment, is a constant problem in the US as well.  Every Senator likes to get his name on building a new facility, but you don't get your name on a maintenance contract, so lots of things get built by the government but few get maintained.  Disney would never let its parks get as run down as the government
allows its public parks to get.  Wal-Mart (like most retailers) virtually rebuilds its stores every
twenty years, and would never let its infrastructure get as run
down as, say, the average US post office.

So I take as my example the Washington Metro system, one of the highest-profile public infrastructure projects in the country:

The Metro Rail system was built with federal dollars, with the
understanding that local governments would pay for its operation. But
no one was prepared to pay for rail reconstruction, which is
needed every 30 years or so and which costs a substantial fraction of
the original construction cost. Now, some of the system is approaching
30 years of age and is breaking down with increasing frequency.

The article, by Randal O'Toole of Cato, goes on to show another example of this same mindset:

Meanwhile, everyone is trying to ignore the gorilla in the corner,
which is that VTA's board wants to spend $4.7 billion to connect the
San Francisco BART system to San Jose. The agency only has enough money
to build to the edge of San Jose, but even if it had all the money for
construction, its general manager admits "we clearly do not have the money to operate the system." Nevertheless, the board recently voted to spend $185 million "” more than half of VTA's annual operating budget "” on preliminary engineering.

Meanwhile, VTA is still short on operating funds, so it is contemplating "eliminating or consolidating" service on more than a quarter of its remaining bus lines.

Happy Birthday Leonhard Euler

Yesterday was apparently the 300th birthday of Leonhard Euler, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and perhaps the greatest that the average layman has never heard of. 

Euler is responsible for so much that is still important to modern mathematics it is hard to pin down his greatest achievement, but most will point to his famous equation that was sort of the unified field theory of mathematics, describing a relationship between all five of math's most important numbers:

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0, \,\!
I learned something the other day that might be interesting to you business and finance folks out there -- the constant "e" was first described by Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest rates.

Jacob Bernoulli discovered this constant by studying a question about compound interest.

One simple example is an account that starts with $1.00 and pays
100% interest per year. If the interest is credited once, at the end of
the year, the value is $2.00; but if the interest is computed and added
twice in the year, the $1 is multiplied by 1.5 twice, yielding $1.00×1.52 = $2.25. Compounding quarterly yields $1.00×1.254 = $2.4414"¦, and compounding monthly yields $1.00×(1.0833"¦)12 = $2.613035"¦.

Bernoulli noticed that this sequence approaches a limit for more and
smaller compounding intervals. Compounding weekly yields $2.692597"¦,
while compounding daily yields $2.714567"¦, just two cents more. Using n as the number of compounding intervals, with interest of 1/n in each interval, the limit for large n is the number that came to be known as e; with continuous compounding, the account value will reach $2.7182818"¦. More generally, an account that starts at $1, and yields $(1+R) at simple interest, will yield $"‰eR with continuous compounding.

In the 20th century, we have gotten in a mind set that math is this strange discipline that lives purely out in the theoretical either.  But we forget that a lot of modern math was invented to solve real-world problems.  Newton invented calculus (yeah, I know, I haven't forgotten Liebnitz) to solve planetary motion problems, and it turns out "e" was invented to work with interest rates.

I Didn't Get the Memo

John Tamny in TCS Daily:

In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, "Overselling Capitalism,"
University of Maryland Professor Benjamin Barber wrote of the "crisis"
in the capitalist mindset, where the "'Protestant ethos' of hard work
and deferred gratification has been replaced by an infantilist ethos of
easy credit and impulsive consumption that puts democracy and the
market system at risk."

Wow, I must not have gotten the memo.  Here I have been plugging negative numbers into my 1040 for three or four years in an attempt to build a business and some future wealth, and it turns out that deferred gratification is out of style.   (TJIC also did not get the memo)

Here is a big reality check for professor Barber:  The fact that a few mortgage companies got overly generous in extending mortgage credit does not mean that the work ethic and entrepreneurship is dead.  In fact, they are virtually unrelated topics.  If the price of something is reduced, more is going to be consumed.  Suppliers of credit reduced the price of credit, too far as it turned out to make a profit, and more was consumed.  This does not represent so tragic change in the human makeup, it is just supply and demand at work, like normal, and some bad business judgement. 

In fact, I can't get over the class-based condescension that seems to fill every nook and cranny of the commentary on the mortgage bubble bursting.  When in the late 1990's, rich VC's provided too much money too cheaply to yuppies running Internet companies, I don't remember anyone lamenting a shift in human motivation or a failure of capitalism.  But when banks provided too much capital too cheaply to lower income people for home mortgages, suddenly all those lower-income people are representative of the failure of capitalism and the work ethic.

Why Does Socialism Sometimes Seem to Sort of Work, At First?

Sometimes industries get nationalized, and they seem to do OK, at least for a while.  Sometimes when countries go socialist, and they appear to function well, at least at first (Sweden, for example, was held up as a model for a while).  I had a couple of thoughts on this topic as we seem to be at the precipice of nationalizing the health care industry in this country:

  • Among some, the work ethic dies hard.  Medicine is a great example.  Because of how difficult it is to become a doctor in this country, the medical profession attracts very few people with poor work ethics.  One can see these folks continuing to work hard, even under socialized medicine where many of the incentives to do so have been taken away.  It can take a whole generation for socialism to kill the work ethic in an industry, but when it finally does so, the effect is dramatic.  For example, doctors in the US see 60% more patients in a day than doctors in countries with socialized medicine (ie everywhere else).  Eventually, though, the highest talent, most motivated people move on to other industries or occupations where their hard work is rewarded, and are replaced by a new generation of workers who are attracted to a job where only attendance (and sometimes not even that) is required.
  • Incentives can work quickly, or they can take a while to operate.  Some incentives can work quickly -- for example, if on any given day, the government were to decide to cap gasoline prices twenty percent below the market level, we would see gasoline lines in less than a week.  On the other hand, the welfare program of the late 1960's provided incentives for out-of-wedlock births that took 20+ years to reach its peak.  Beyond the moral failures of socialism, one** of its practical failures revolves around incentives.  Customers get subsidized products or services, forgetting that that this will cause people to use more than is available.  Employees don't get rewarded for merit or hard work, but the system is constructed such that it won't work without these.
  • Assets and capital equipment act like a storage battery.  Businesses that are purely human, like a restaurant, you can screw up in a week.  I think everyone has had the experience of going to a service business under new management and being really disappointed.  Capital-intensive businesses, particularly extractive ones, can be looted for decades by kleptocratic governments.   Even so, the game can't go on forever.

What drives me most crazy is when socialism's advocates answer criticisms about socialism's consistently dismal long-term results by saying "but it will work if only we can get the right people in charge" (usually this means the speaker and his/her cronies).  If you are a Star Trek fan, you will understand why I call this the "John Gill Fallacy."  As I wrote before:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel
good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

** Other failures of socialism include this.  And this:

You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you are
smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values, etc.,
and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.

More Stock Broker Hard Sell

I am still getting the hard sell from cold-callers touting securities.  I am told this is because we small business owners are just behind dentists and doctors in terms of our capacity to make bonehead investments.

Before I proceed with this story, there are two things you need to know about me:

  • I answer my own phone at the office
  • I have never, ever listened to a sales pitch for an investment or security.  If I am in a good mood, I interrupt and say, "sorry, not iterested" before they can even name the stock.  If I am in a bad mood, I just hang up.

So the other day, I accidentally let one of them go further than I usually allow.  He said he was from Olympia Asset Management.  (There is an Olympia Asset Management web page, but I don't know if it is the same company and the web page has not been updated for several years.)  I let him run for a bit because a friend of mine runs a very well-respected financial planning firm with a different name but also with Olympia in the title, and for a moment I thought it might have been one of his folks.

Anyway, he proceeds to try to convince me that we have talked before and discussed a certain security.  "Remember me, we talked six months ago about ____".  Of course, I had never heard of the guy.  At this point I usually hang up, because I have heard this crap before -- it is a common pitch.  The best I can figure is that they are trying to give themselves more credibility by either:

  1. Trying to imply that we have some kind of relationship we actually don't have.  Or worse...
  2. Trying to convince me that he touted stock A six months ago, so now he can tell me stock A has gone up in price.  Many reputable brokers built their reputation by cold calling people and saying:  Watch these 3 stocks and see how they do and I will call you back in 6 months.  That way, you can evaluate their stock picking without risk.  The modern sleazy approach is to pick a stock that has gone up a lot in the last 6 months, and then call some harried business person and pretend you called them with that pick 6 months ago, hoping that they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason, maybe because I was bored, I decided to chat with him, and I had to admit that he was trained pretty well never to give up.  I interrupted him after the "do you remember" opening and said that we could not possible have spoken about a stock, because I always hang up on people within 5 seconds of knowing it is a stock pitch.  He said he had sent me a packet of information.  I said that he had not.  He insisted that we had talked, and that I had promised to write down the name of the stock on my calendar.  I told him I don't have a calendar  (which is actually true - I manage myself through a dysfunctional combination of memory and post-it notes).  Sensing weakness, I turned on him and said "gee, I was out of town a lot 6 months ago and am surprised you got hold of me.  What date did you call."  Then he starts getting all vague on me.  Anyway, I finally tired of the game and hung up but he never relented in his assertion that he and I had had a nice chat about some security.

Please, please.  Avoid these guys on the phone like the plague.  Several years ago I had a guy call me with some oil drilling "opportunity."  In that case, I also made an exception to my rule and listened to see just how bad this thing was going to be.  Finally I broke in and said "that's ridiculous, no one in their right mind would send you money for that."  He too was relentless, until I finally said "Look, I know Tony Soprano is standing behind you in the boiler room there and putting pressure on you, but I am not interested."  Then, without a pause, he starts telling me how he once threw a Molotov cocktail into the car of someone he didn't like.  I don't know if he was just having fun with me, but he was either wildly unprofessional or very creepy.  Beware, Beware, Beware.

The 800-Year Lag

Until I watched the Global Warming Swindle, I had confined my criticisms of anthropogenic global warming theory to two general areas:  1)  The models for future warming are overstated and 2) The costs of warming may not justify the costs of preventing it.

The movie offered an alternate hypothesis about global warming and climate change that, rather than refute the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming, provided a counter hypothesis.  You should watch the movie, but the counter hypothesis is that historic temperature changes have been the result of variations in solar activity.  Rather than causing these changes, increased atmospheric CO2 levels resulted from these temperature increases, as rising ocean temperatures caused CO2 to be driven out of solution from the world's oceans.

I thought one of the more compelling charts from Al Gore's pPwerpoint deck, which made the movie An Invconvienent Truth, was the hundred thousand year close relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperature, as discovered in ice core analysis.  The Swindle movie, however, claims that Gore is hiding something from that analysis in the scale of his chart -- that the same ice core analyses show that global temperature changes have led CO2 concentration changes by as much as 800 years.  (short 2-minute snippet of this part of the movie here, highly recommended).

Well, this would certainly be something important to sort out.  I have not done much real science since my physics days at Princeton, but my sense is that, except maybe at the quantum level, when B follows A it is hard to argue that B caused A.

So I have poked around a bit to see -- is this really what the ice core data shows, or is Swindle just making up facts or taking facts out of context ala the truther hypotheses about 9/11?  Well, it turns out that everyone, even the die-hard global warming supporters, accept this 800-year lag as correct (Watch the Al Gore clip above -- it is clear he knows. You can tell by the very careful way he describes the relationship).  LuboÅ¡ Motl summarizes in his blog:

However, the most popular - and the most straightforward - explanation
of the direction of the causal relationship is the fact that in all
cases, the CO2 concentration only changed its trend roughly 800 years
after temperature had done the same thing. There have been many papers
that showed this fact and incidentally, no one seems to disagree with
it....

The whole "group" at RealClimate.ORG
[ed: one of the leading sites promoting the anthropogenic theory] has agreed that there was a lag. But they say that in the first 800
years when the influence of temperature on CO2 is manifest, it was
indeed temperature that drove the gases. But in the remaining 4200
years of the trend, it was surely the other way around: CO2 escalated
the warming, they say.

Frequent readers will know that I have criticized forward looking climate models on many occasions for being too reliant on positive feedback processes.  For example, in the most recent IPCC models, over 2/3 of future warming come not from CO2 but from various positive feedback effects (section 8.6 of the 2007 report). 

The folks at RealClimate.org are similarly positing a positive feedback mechanism in the past -- "something" causes initial warming, which drives CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which causes more warming, etc. 

I am not sure I have ever done so, so let me take a minute to discuss positive feedbacks.  This is something I know a fair amount about, since my specialization at school in mechanical engineering was in control theory and feedback processes.  Negative feedback means that when you disturb an object or system in some way, forces tend to counteract this disturbance.  Positive feedback means that the forces at work tend to reinforce or magnify a disturbance.

You can think of negative feedback as a ball sitting in the bottom of a bowl.  Flick the ball in any direction, and the sides of the bowl, gravity, and friction will tend to bring the ball back to rest in the center of the bowl.  Positive feedback is a ball balanced on the pointy tip of a mountain.  Flick the ball, and it will start rolling faster and faster down the mountain, and end up a long way away from where it started with only a small initial flick.

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 (except, apparently, on the greens at Augusta).  There is a good reason for this.  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."   I can illustrate this with an example:  Nuclear fission is a positive feedback process.  A high energy neutron causes the fission reaction, which produces multiple high energy neutrons that can cause more fission.  It is a runaway process, it is dangerous and unstable.  We should be happy there are not more positive feedback processes on our planet.

Since negative feedback processes are much more common, and since positive feedback processes almost never yield a stable system, scientists assume that processes they meet are negative feedback until proven otherwise.  Except in climate, it seems, where everyone assumes positive feedback is common.

Back to the climate question.  The anthropogenic guys are saying that when the earth heated, it caused CO2 to outgas from the oceans, which in turn caused more warming, which causes more outgassing, etc.  But where does it stop?  If this is really how things work, why isn't the Earth more like Venus?  If you are going to posit such a runaway process, you have to also posit what stops it.  So far, the only thing I can think of is that the process would stop when the all bands of light that are absorbable by CO2 are fully saturated.

But the feedback is worse than this.  I won't go into it now, but as you can see from this post, or from section 8.6 of the 2007 IPCC report, the current climate models assume that warming from CO2 itself yields further positive feedback effects (e.g. more humidity) that further accelerate warming, acting as a multiplier as great as 3-times on CO2 effects alone.

So here is the RealClimate view of the world:  Any small warming from some outside source (think Mr. Sun) is accelerated by outgassing CO2 which is in turn accelerated by these other effects in their climate models.  In other words, global temperature is a ball sitting perched on the top of a mountain, and the smallest nudge causes it to accelerate away.  This is the point at which, despite having only limited knowledge about the climate, I have to call bullshit!  There is just no way our planet's climate could be as stable as it has been long-term and be built on such positive feedback loops.  No way.  Either these folks are over-estimating the positive feedback or ignoring negative feedbacks or both.  (and yes, I know we have had ice ages and such but against the backdrop of the range of temperatures the Earth theoretically could have in different situations, our climate variation has been small).

Postscript:  The other day I mentioned that it was funny a group studying solar output felt the need to put in a statement validating anthropogenic global warming despite the fact that nothing in their research said any such thing.  Motl points to a similar thing in the ice core studies:

Well, the website tells us that the paper that reported the lag contained the following sentence:

  • ...
    is still in full agreement with the idea that CO2 plays, through its
    greenhouse effect, a key role in amplifying the initial orbital forcing
    ...

Again, this statement was included despite the fact that their study pretty clearly refutes some key premises in anthropogenic global warming theory.  It's become a phrase like "no animal was hurt in the filming of this movie" that you have to append to every climate study.  Or, probably a better analogy, it is like Copernicus spending a few chapters assuring everyone he still believes in God and the Bible before he lays out his heliocentric view of the solar system. 

Update: All this is not to say that there are not positive feedback loops in climate.  Ice albedo is probably one -- as temperatures rise, ice melts and less sunlight is reflected back into space by the ice so the world warms more.  My point is that it does not make any sense to say that positive feedback processes dominate.

Correction: Like a moron, I have been using anthropomorphic rather than anthropogenic to refer to man-made climate effects.  Oops.  Thanks to my reader who corrected me.  I have fixed this article but am too lazy to go back and edit the past.

Further Update:  The irony of my correction above juxtaposed against the title of the previous post is not lost on me.

Update to the Postscript: Oh my god, here it is again.  An NOAA-funded study comes to the conclusion that global warming might actually reduce hurricane strength and frequency.  Nowhere in the study did the researchers touch any topic related to anthropogenic warming -- they just studied what might happen to hurricanes if the world warms for any reason.  But here is that disclaimer again:

"This study does not, in any way, undermine the widespread consensus in the scientific community about the reality of global warming," said co-author Brian Soden, Rosenstiel School associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography whose research is partly funded by NOAA.

Does the NOAA and other funding bodies actually require that this boilerplate be added to every study?

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

I don't think CBS understands the word "plagiarism."  Apparently, they are arguing that Katie Couric is not guilty of plagiarism because her on-air diary about her personal thoughts on her own life experiences was ... not written by her and she apparently never saw it or discussed it before she read it on-air.  It was those other writers who are at fault for wholesale lifting from a WSJ piece.  Apparently Couric's portrayal of other people's experiences written down by third-party writers as her own work and own life is A-OK.

They Don't Want a Solution

Via Jane Galt:

The environmental movement has so far utterly failed to develop a
coherent approach to replacing carbon producing power sources. Wind and
solar are not such a coherent response without a massive breakthrough
in battery technology, because variable sources are inadequate to
provide base-load power. Also, they too have negative externalities:
wind kills birds and destroys views, and many solar panels are loaded
with gallium arsenide, a highly toxic substance that is apparently
rather tricky to dispose of.

All this wouldn't be so bothersome if the environmental movement
merely failed to provide realistic alternatives, but in fact, many
environmentalists actively move to block new wind installations (I'm
looking at you, Robert jr.) and nuclear power plants, spread hysteria
over nuclear waste, and otherwise actively work against the cause they
are trying to advance. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to demand
why they are blocking the only things that have any realistic chance of
replacing carbon-emitting power plants.

The answer, in my opinion, is that too many environmentalists flunk
basic and economic knowlege, which is why so many people believe it is
practical to replace a coal-fired turbine that pumps out 1,000
megawatts with a solar installation that will, in peak sun conditions,
produce about 1 kilowatt per 150 feet of space, twelve hours a day; or
wind farms, which average less than 1 megawatt per turbine in prime
spots. In addition, the core of the environmental movement are people
with a whole host of linked views about things like capitalism,
consumer culture, and so forth; they find solutions that support,
rather than changing, the existing system much less emotionally
interesting than radical conservation strategies. Unfortunately, the
latter are a thoroughgoing political failure, but the environmental
movement has strenuously resisted adjusting to this reality. (Some
leaders have, God bless them). As long as this attitude persists, the
environmental movement is blocking change that could and should happen;
it is perfectly legitimate, nay necessary, to tax them on this.

She only sortof answers her own question at the end.  The real answer is that many who currently lead the environmental movement don't want a technological fix that sustains economic growth without CO2 emissions.  The whole point of latching onto, and exaggerating, the theory of anthropomorphic global warming is to find a big new club to bash capitalism and wealth.  Just watch this segment of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! where film of environmental movements is shown.  All the rhetoric is not anti-polluter, it's anti-corprorate and anti-capitalism.  Many leading environmentalists want nothing less than to shut down the global economy, and if that means taking down every poor person in the world just to get at Exxon and General Motors, they are willing to do so.

Anti-Science From Both Left and Right

The political left in this country likes to claim the moral high ground of being scientific, and claims that it is the Christian right that opposes science.  While certainly the right can be justly criticized for opposing the teaching of evolution and certain types of stem cell research, the left has more than its fair share of Luddites:  (via Overlawyered)   

In
the first injunction of this kind, U.S. District Court Judge Charles
Breyer of the Northern District of California declared that no Roundup
ready alfalfa seed can be planted after March 30, 2007....

Crop
safety is not the issue. The court has already accepted that Roundup
Ready alfalfa poses no harm to humans and livestock, according to
Monsanto representative Andrew Burchett. And, other regulatory agencies
around the world, including Canada and Japan, have confirmed its
environmental safety....

 The
suit filed last year by the Center for Food Safety, Trask Family Seeds,
and Geertson Seed Farms and others charged that USDA failed to follow
procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in
granting non-regulated status to Roundup Ready alfalfa under the Plant
Protection Act, and would have to prepare an Environmental Impact
Statement.

Every time someone on the left preaches about how important it is to overcome the Republican's barriers to stem cell research, I want to gag.  Sure, I'd like to see more such research happening, but this is a field of endeavor that is very young and any potential benefits are uncertain and far in the future.  GM crops could be saving lives among the poor today, but the left consistently resists their spread, doing far more damage, at least in the near term, than the right has with stem cell research bans.

Quick, Check the Thermostat

Al Gore says that current global temperatures are the highest they have been in 1000 years.  A new study by the Institute of Astronomy in Zurich says that the "sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years."  Related? 

Sunspots have been monitored on the Sun since 1610,
shortly after the invention of the telescope. They provide the
longest-running direct measurement of our star's activity.

The variation in sunspot numbers has revealed the Sun's 11-year cycle of activity as well as other, longer-term changes.

In particular, it has been noted that between about 1645 and 1715, few sunspots were seen on the Sun's surface.

This period is called the Maunder Minimum after the English astronomer who studied it.

It coincided with a spell of prolonged cold weather
often referred to as the "Little Ice Age". Solar scientists strongly
suspect there is a link between the two events - but the exact
mechanism remains elusive....

But the most striking feature, he says, is that
looking at the past 1,150 years the Sun has never been as active as it
has been during the past 60 years.

Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady
increase in the numbers of sunspots, a trend that has accelerated in
the past century, just at the time when the Earth has been getting
warmer.

The data suggests that changing solar activity is influencing in some way the global climate causing the world to get warmer.

Of course, these poor scientists know that they could lose their jobs and be called Holocaust deniers if they don't acknowledge anthropomorphic global warming, so they do say:

Over the past 20 years, however, the number of
sunspots has remained roughly constant, yet the average temperature of
the Earth has continued to increase.

This is put down to a human-produced greenhouse effect caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.             (HT:  TJIC)

Which may actually be the case, but it is interesting that astronomers feel the need to say this without any evidence of such in their own study just to protect themselves from ostracism by the climate religionists.

However, even if the two are working in concert, the fact that solar activity explains some of the 20th century warming means that current climate models are WAY overestimating the impact of anthropomorphic warming. 

For example, the climate models in the current 2007 IPCC report assume that the world would have experienced no warming in the 20th century without man.  This is from Section 8, actual is the black line, the models without man are in blue, the models with man are in red:

Ipcc1

In other words, the IPCC models completely ignore the increasing solar activity and assume 100% of 20th century warming was due to man-made effects, even the substantial warming before 1940 (and before the onset of truly heavy world-wide fossil fuel use).

Already, the models used by the IPCC tend to overestimate past warming even if all past warming is attributable to anthropomorphic causes.  If anthropomorphic effects explain only a fraction of past warming, then the current models are vastly overstated, good for stampeding the populous into otherwise unpopular political control over the economy, but of diminished scientific value.

Postscript: I cannot prove this, but I am willing to make a bet based on my long, long history of modeling (computers, not fashion).  My guess is that the blue band, representing climate without man-made effects, was not based on any real science but was instead a plug.  In other words, they took their models and actual temperatures and then said "what would the climate without man have to look like for our models to be correct."  There are at least four reasons I strongly suspect this to be true:

  1. Every computer modeler in history has tried this trick to make their models of the future seem more credible.  I don't think the climate guys are immune.
  2. There is no way their models, with our current state of knowledge about the climate, match reality that well. 
  3. The first time they ran their models vs. history, they did not match at all.  This current close match is the result of a bunch of tweaking that has little impact on the model's predictive ability but forces it to match history better.  For example, early runs had the forecast run right up from the 1940 peak to temperatures way above what we see today.
  4. The blue line totally ignores any of our other understandings about the changing climate, including the changing intensity of the sun.  It is conveniently exactly what is necessary to make the pink line match history.  In fact, against all evidence, note the blue band falls over the century.  This is because the models were pushing the temperature up faster than we have seen it rise historically, so the modelers needed a negative plug to make the numbers look nice.

State-Run Companies and Investment, Part 2

In my earlier post, I commented that one reason a number of foreign oil fields may be "peaking" is not necesarily because they are hitting their production limits, ala "peak oil theory," but because state run companies tend to be terrible at making the intelligent long-term investments that are needed to maintain oil production in aging fields.  I observed:

There are a lot of things you can do to an aging oil field,
particularly with $60 prices to justify the effort, to increase or
maintain production.  In accordance with the laws of diminishing
returns, all of them require increasing amounts of capital and
intelligent management.

Unfortunately, state owned oil companies like Pemex (whose assets,
by the way, were stolen years ago from US owners) are run terribly,
like every other state-owned company in the world.  And, when
politicians in Mexico are faced with a choice between making capital
available for long-term investment in the fields or dropping it into
yet another silly government program or transfer payment scheme, they
do the latter.  And when politicians have a choice between running an
employment meritocracy or creating a huge bureaucracy of jobs for life
for their cronies they choose the latter. 

So today, via Hit and Run, we see this exact same effect in Venezuela:

No one sees an immediate crisis at Petróleos de Venezuela. But its
windfall from high oil prices masks the devilish complexity and rising
costs of producing heavy oil. Meanwhile, the company acknowledged last
month that spending on "social development" almost doubled in 2006, to
$13.3 billion, while its spending on exploration badly trailed its
global peers. And Petróleos de Venezuela's work force has ballooned to
89,450, up 29 percent since 2001 even as production declined
...
Petróleos
de Venezuela's cash is said to be running short as Mr. Chávez uses its
revenue to cement political alliances with Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua.
The company has borrowed more than $11 billion since the start of the
year, a rapid debt buildup that reflects a wager by Mr. Chávez that oil
prices will remain high indefinitely.

It's Our Economy, Not Yours, Stupid

Like many libertarians, I lose interest quickly in politics, watching partisans of the Coke party argue why they are so much different than the Pepsi party.  You don't have to watch the whole farce for very long as a neutral observer before you see the same people taking the opposite tack on an issue than they did a few years earlier, only because their guy is in office, so now its more OK than when the other party's guy was doing it.

But I do read a few political blogs from both sides, just to keep abreast of what is going on.  This weekend, both sides managed to irritate me over the same issue.  First, Kevin Drum, from the left, railed on what he called "the GOP economy," complaining that the economy has grown without increasing median wages (note he carefully avoids "total compensation," which has gone up.)  Then Captains Quarters wrote from the right that "The economy continues its growth under the stewardship of the Bush administration."

George Bush does not run the economy.  George Bush does not even make day-to-day decisions that affect the economy.  He has made a few major moves that have economic consequences, with the positive effects of tax cuts probably mostly offset by unrestrained deficit spending, random protectionist acts and new bloated government services.  Bill Clinton, while we have to credit him for NAFTA (see below), was not responsible for the incredible economic expansion of the 90's.  In fact, neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have ever held a job where they produced anything. 

All of which is fine - I am not accusing president's of somehow falling down on the job.  I am merely stating what I thought was obvious.  Wealth is created by the actions and the minds of hundreds of millions of people, to whom the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant except insofar as the President  substantially increases or reduces the artificial burden of efficiency-sucking government mandates, reporting, and taxes.

I will go into more depth on this in my annual tax day post, but I am increasingly confident of my theory of wealth creation.  Wealth is increased as two things happen:

  • More individuals are more free to (and more likely to) question established beliefs, either scientific (e.g. the earth-centric universe), social (e.g. racial prejudice) or business (e.g. primacy of mainframe computing).
  • More Individuals are more free to act in their own self-interest to pursue the results of their insights and to keep for themselves the proceeds of their efforts.

Since the 1970's, we have seen an explosion in the global economy, which has greatly increased the number of people working on any given economic problem.  For example, instead of just people in Detroit and Germany thinking about how to design and produce cars, we have folks in Japan and South Korea and even China and Brazil questioning the established wisdom from Detroit.  This has resulted not just in better, more affordable cars, but in production and supply chain management techniques that have made nearly every industry you can name more productive. 

Whenever such a change occurs, there are conservative (lower-c) forces that try to halt them.  The Church used its power for a time to resist the heliocentric view of the solar system.  Southern states used Jim Crow laws to resist post Civil War racial and social reforms.  And any number of groups wanted (and still want) to slam the door on the global economy.  Many countries in Europe went down this path.  What has saved the US from the same low-growth fate they have in Europe (and Japan) is that the government, and Bill Clinton in particular, at a critical time resisted the technocratic urge to have the government "do something" about the economic changes flowing from globalization.  Some wanted protectionism, while some wanted a more active hand by the government in "choosing winners" in the economy, like it was perceived that Japan had.  Bill Clinton resisted resisted these voices, most of whom were powerful in his own party, and in fact doubled down on globalization by pushing NAFTA.  For this act of vision, Clinton should be credited, but I still wouldn't call it "his" economy. 

An iPod for every kid? Are they !#$!ing idiots?

Seldom do I plagiarize editorial titles - I usually try to make up my own post title, even if mine is not as good as the original.  But how can you not give kudos to an MSM editorial like this:

An iPod for every kid? Are they !#$!ing idiots?

The Detroit News

We have come to the conclusion that the
crisis Michigan faces is not a shortage of revenue, but an excess of
idiocy. Facing a budget deficit that has passed the $1 billion mark,
House Democrats Thursday offered a spending plan that would buy a MP3
player or iPod for every school child in Michigan.

No cost estimate was attached to their hare-brained idea to "invest" in education. Details, we are promised, will follow.

It is good to see a MSM outlet treating this type of stupid populist government proposal with all the seriousness it deserves.  I wish they would cry foul more often.  Via Hall of Record.

An Evening in Hell is...

... attending a concert with a bad ABBA cover band singing through a really awful sound system to a full house of 70+ year-olds ripped from their usual haunts at the dinner theater and who are in full sing-along mode, swaying their arms and, god help me, holding aloft lighters.

Having never been an ABBA fan, I got talked into this after really enjoying the Mamma Mia show in London.  Never again.

Conservatives are Lost, Part 324

For those who still can't accept that the current ruling conservatives have shed any last remnants of their libertarian / small-government allies, here's this (sorry, I am a little late on this one):

The latest property rights case to hit the U.S. Supreme Court is a
doozy. Quick background: Harvey Frank Robbins bought a piece of land in
Wyoming. The previous owner had agreed in principle to give the federal
government an easement over the land. But the government agents
neglected to record the easement, so Robbins obtained the land without
it. The federal government came back to reclaim the easement, and
Robbins refused.

In the Legal Times  Tim Sandefur explains what happened next:

"The
federal government doesn't negotiate," one official told him. Instead,
they promised that Robbins' refusal would "come to war" and that they
would give him a "hardball education." Then they began a vendetta
against him that would last to the present day.

They cancelled
his right of way over government-owned land, repeatedly harassed the
guests at his ranch, cited him for minor infractions while letting
similar violations by his neighbors go unnoticed, and brought him up on
criminal charges of interfering with federal agents during their
duties. The jury acquitted him after deliberating for less than 30
minutes.

After enduring years of such treatment, Robbins sued,
arguing, among other things, that the BLM agents had violated his Fifth
Amendment right to exclude others from his property.

The
10th Circuit ruled for Robbins, but the federal government appealed.
Conservatives in particular should take note of the stunning argument
from U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement:

"No
court," said Solicitor General Paul Clement in his brief, has "ever
recognized a constitutional right against retaliation . . . in the
context of property rights."