Archive for May 2007

Worst of Both Worlds

Those who support a strong regulatory state argue that only the government has the power and the incentives to make sure products are safe.  Anarcho-capitalists like myself argue that where consumers demand high-quality or assurances of safety, the market will provide it as competitors, always alert for ways to differentiate themselves, will seek out ways to create a brand around safety or security (see Volvo, for example).  If those competitors gain market share, then others will have to emulate them.

The Bush Administration has, at least for mad cow disease, chosen to take the worst of both of these worlds, resisting calls for the government to test more than 1% of the beef while actually barring private firms from competing on the basis of better testing.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The
Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows
for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef.

But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger
meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat
and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive
test, too.

Basically, Creekstone's competitors are asking to be protected from having to respond to innovation by their competitors.  Their response is roughly equivalent to Barnes and Noble saying in 1998, "Amazon should be banned from selling books on the internet because if they do so, we may have to bear the cost of doing the same."  No shit.  Deal with it.

Again, regulation is being used to protect companies from the cost of full competition.

Air Conditioning May Be Causing Global Warming

But maybe not the way you think. 

Via Anthony Watts, Oregon State Climatologist George Taylor sends in a picture of one of the official temperature measuring sites that feed into the databases that are used to track global temperature. 

Here is the official temperature plot from "rural" Forest Grove.  Note the "global warming" that really takes effect around 1984.

Forestgrove_plot

Of course, this change might (just call me a holocaust-denying skeptic) be due instead to the fact that the adjacent building installed an air conditioner about 1984 that vented hot air on the thermometer.  If you have never seen one, the vented white box on about 4 foot legs and the small white cylinder on the metal pole next to it are the weather station station. 

Forestgrove

Of course, setting the measurement station on a pad of hot asphalt and next to a reflective building are also best practices for getting a thermometer to read high.  The aptly name Mr. Watts has been running a great series on temperature measurement issues in his blog - just keep scrolling.

Update: Andrew Watts found the location on Google maps when I could not, probably because I was looking for a semi-rural area outside of town.  But apparently, this is one of the fastest growing communities in Oregon, and, like with many measurement spots over the last 100 years, a hotter urban environment has enveloped the measurement point.  The location is on the left, and I zoomed straight out on the right, so the location is still in the center.

   

In 1900, this thermometer was measuring the temperature of miles and miles of pasture.  Today, it is measuring the temperature of acres of asphalt in the middle of a growing city.

Wow

Jim Goodridge, via Anthony Watts, has a 102 year temperature change plot for California.  These temperatures are without all the black-box corrections made by climate scientists - just straight out is the temperature going up or down.  Check out the map of California.  Skeptics often argue that some of the global warming we measure may actually just be the urban heating effect from asphalt and concrete and buildings and machinery impinging on measurement sites.  See if you can see the pattern.

Socialism in an Engineering Article

I am writing a paper on climate models, and an important part of that discussion is on positive feedback (most climate models get large changes in future climate through the liberal use of positive feedback assumptions).  I was looking around the Internet for a nice pithy explanation of positive feedback.  This one on Wikipedia was fine, until I got wacked in the face with the last line (emphasis added)

The end result of a positive feedback is often amplifying
and "explosive." That is, a small perturbation will result in big
changes. This feedback, in turn, will drive the system even further
away from its own original setpoint, thus amplifying the original perturbation signal, and eventually become explosive because the amplification often grows exponentially
( with the first order positive feedback), or even hyperbolically (with
the second order positive feedback). An intuitive example is "the rich
get richer, and the poor get poorer."

Wow, intuitive?  How can a statement that is wrong in at least two major ways be intuitive?  First, the poor generally do not get poorer.  In fact, the poor in the United States are in many ways better off than the richest men of the mid-nineteenth century (particular example linked is for the middle class, but many of the same arguments hold for the poor), and better off than the middle class of many nations.  Second, while it might be arguable that there is a positive feedback loop that helps the rich get richer, no such loop is even possible with the very poorest.  Without going into too much detail, the simplest explanation is that with income you can't go below zero.  What people really mean by this statement is that the poor get poorer relative to the rich, rather than on an absolute scale.  Which of course has little to do with positive feedback.  By the way, the rest of the article is equally bizarre, giving more examples of social phenomena that are only weakly linked to positive feedback (Internet echo chamber effect?) rather than physical processes.  It looks like a physics article written by a politics major.

Here are some alternative non-socialist examples of positive feedback from the physical world that actually have the virtue of being true:  Nuclear fission, some exothermic chemical reactions, and acoustic feedback.  In actuality, since positive feedback reactions are so explosive and unstable, they are very uncommon in nature, which is part of the argument against how climate models are constructed.

If you don't know the connection between climate models and positive feedback, see here

A Thought on Ward Churchill

I suppose this is going to be one of those nutty libertarian rants that help explain why libertarians do so poorly at the polls, but I am not really very comfortable with Ward Churchill's potential firing from University of Colorado.  I can't think of very many things Mr. Churchill has said that I agree with, but I still have this crazy idea about defending speech regardless of the content of the speech.

And it is hard for me to escape the sense that Mr. Churchill may lose his tenured position at a state-run institution over the content of his speech.  Yeah, I know, its nominally about his academic credentials.  But don't you think everyone is winking at each other about this?  Yes, Mr. Churchill is an academic fraud, but he was a fraud when UC hired him and tenured him as well, and they should have known it.

Over a couple of decades, every major university in the country rushed to build, practically from scratch, racial and ethnic and gender studies programs and departments.  Had every university raced at the same time to build any discipline, talent would run short and in the hiring race, some under-qualified people would be hired.  Let's suppose that every university decided at the same time they needed a climate department, there just would not be enough qualified climate scientists to fill out every position.  The rush to build ethnic studies programs was similar but in fact a bit worse.  Because while some people actually do have climate-related degrees, no one until recently had an ethnic studies degree.  What professional qualifications should a school look for?  And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support that.

The American Dream

I am still underwater here completing a few projects, but Brink Lindsey is blogging on the most recent study claiming that income growth and the American Dream are somehow dead for the average American. 

Seriously folks, if I had a betting market that would allow you to bet on either income mobility in the US or in France, which would you take?  Seriously?  Given that the US has higher economic growth, orders of magnitude lower barriers to entrepreneurship, and no history of bright-line class distinctions that carry down through history, as France does, where would you bet?

Well, actually, there is such a betting market, and it is called immigration.  Guess which way it is running for the most talented people for whom income mobility would pay the greatest benefits?  Have you heard the stories of the brilliant young technology minds moving from the US to France to start their new business?  Yeah, neither have I.

And don't make the mistake that "Oh, this is fine for smart college educated kids, but how about for poor people?"  Congress is currently tying itself into knots over the problem of about 12 million poorer people for whom America was such an economic attraction that they were willing to break the law to come here.  Which, coincidently, also goes a long way to explaining why US median income always seems stagnant in studies over the last 30 years.  It is because tens of millions of poor immigrants have come in at the bottom, bringing down the mean and median at the same time most individuals are climbing.  It is for this reason that the average individual can be doing better and better at the same time the mean is flat or even going down.

Postscript:  I was emailing back and forth with Brink and he made a great point, which you should look for him to embellish on his blog tomorrow, which I would summarize this way -- No number of dollars in 1970 would buy a laptop computer
loaded with a real-time strategy game that you can play with 64 of your
friends over the Internet or on which you could store a few thousands CD-quality (CD, what's a CD?) songs.

Happy Birthday Star Wars

Brink Lindsey reminds me it is the anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars.  I happened to be staying in Century Plaza in LA with my family on the day the movie was release, though I had never heard of it.  It was actually a pretty low-budget movie, and was only released on a few screens.  I got dumped off by my family, who was going shopping, in some theater near UCLA and Century City I can't even remember the name of.  Anyway, I and about 20 other people were in the theater that first day, partly I guess because it was daytime and mid-week.   It is the first and only movie I stayed and watched a second time.  I know this makes me a geek, but it really was a transcendent experience for me, though sadly an experienced unmatched in any of the follow-on movies.

Being one of an extremely small cadre to have seen the first one on opening day (really by accident) I felt compelled to see all the others on opening day, a cycle I completed successfully.

I would argue that for its time, against expectations of its day, the opening 30 seconds after the words stop scrolling may be the most amazing and powerful opening of a film ever (starts at about 2:00 into the clip below).  And don't miss that fine exhibition of Stormtrooper shooting at about 4:31.  Enjoy it again:

And don't miss how Star Wars should have ended.  Priceless:

And if you are not Star Wars'd out, try the Stormtrooper Training Video:

B-List?

TJIC, who really is a terrific up and coming libertarian-ish blogger, writes:

But in the short term, I'd like to thank the three B-list bloggers
who have so kindly linked to this humble Z-list blog multiple times:

B-list?  I guess I will accept that, as long as I can be in the same category as one of my favorite actresses, queen of the B-movies Sybil Danning.  I am also consoled that just after Sports Illustrated called Mark O'Meara the "king of the B's", he proceeded to win two majors in the same year.

Whoa, I am Part of "Big Recreation"

All these years of writing about climate change, and I always have claimed that I was not in the pay of any interested industry groups.  Well, I guess I lied.  It appears "Big Recreation" is lobbying against greenhouse gas controls.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said: 

"The
recreation industry's true threats come not from climate change --
which has always changed and will always change -- but from the
so-called global warming "˜solutions' being proposed by government
policymakers. Misguided efforts to "˜solve' global warming threaten to
damage the travel and recreation industry and consequently threaten the
American dream."

This is probably true, though the ski resort guys don't agree.

For those who don't know, several years ago I quit both boneheaded Fortune 50 life and boneheaded startup life to run my own recreation business, where I am trying to push a vision of, and make a little money from, privatization of public recreation.  I am actually fairly well insulated from gas price shocks, though by accident rather than thought-out-in-advance strategy.  We have mainly taken over government recreation facilities where the customer base is local weekend traffic (rather than say cross-the-country-to-see-old-faithful travelers).   This is really by accident, because these facilities took less investment than the big national attractions.  As it turns out, when gas prices go up, we actually do a bit better, because people still want to camp and use their RV, but they do it 100 miles from home rather than 1000.

By the way, I am working on a skeptics primer to anthropogenic global warming, which is why blogging has been light.  If you'd be willing to read and comment on a pre-release version, email me and I will put you on the list for a pdf which will be coming in a week or so.  In the mean time, some of my previous work is here

Absolutely Atrocious Science

Via Hit and Run, this is some of the worst science I have seen in a while, and it really makes you wonder about what other schlock gets published (as long as the findings support politically correct principles)

A study in Preventive Medicine
finds that a smoking ban in Bowling Green, Ohio, was followed by a 47
percent drop in hospital admissions for coronary heart disease.
According to the researchers, "The findings of this study suggest that
clean indoor air ordinances lead to a reduction in hospital admissions
for coronary heart disease, thus reducing health care costs"....

A look at the raw hospital-admission numbers for Bowling Green, as reported by Michael Siegel, may help resolve this mystery:

1999: 35
2000: 24
2001: 24
2002: 36
2003: 22
2004: 26

Although
the smoking ban took effect in March 2002, Siegel notes, the
researchers treat that year's admissions as if they all occurred before
the ban

That's hilarious.  What responsible researcher would look at that data set, with a March 2002 start date for the program, and be able to come to a conclusion that a smoking ban had any effect at all.  I'm not sure I even fault the "researchers" -- they are obviously trying to flog their point of view with BS data and must be happy they found a sucker to publish them.  But Preventative Medicine should be ashamed.

Those Dang Illegal Immigrants Taking All of Our Jobs

Via TJIC and Mark Perry come this excellent observation:

State unemployment rates for April were released last week by the
BLS, and there are now 18 states that have set historical record-low
jobless rates in the last year

Here are the 18 states with historical record-low jobless rates"¦

"¦California: 4.7% in November 2006
"¦Arizona: 3.9% in March 2007
"¦New Mexico: 3.5% in February 2007
"¦Texas: 4.2% in April 2007"¦

I wonder where our economy would be without those 15 million Mexican immigrants.  Negative unemployment?

Great Moments In Personal Responsibility

Via Overlawyered:

Score another one for personal responsibility: 29-year old St. Louis
Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock killed himself in April when he drove --
faster than the speed limit, drunk, on a cell phone, and not wearing a
seat belt -- into a tow truck stopped on the side of a road. Obviously,
we ought to blame... everyone except Josh Hancock for this. Three and a
half weeks after the accident, his father has filed suit
in St. Louis against: the restaurant where Hancock was drinking, the
manager of the restaurant, the tow truck driver, the towing company,
and (!) the driver of the stalled vehicle that the tow truck was
assisting, for having the temerity to get his car stuck on the side of
the road.

So far, he hasn't sued the Cardinals or Major League Baseball, but, while praising the team, his lawyer pointedly refused to rule out suing them.

How's That Welfare State Working Out For You

Note: Lots of updates at the bottom

We have all heard that the US is backward vs. our much more enlightened bretheren in Europe on income inequality.  The general argument is that US is somehow a worse place because out income inequality is higher than in most European countries.

My reaction has always been, so what?  Why should I care about how well I am doing vs. the richest folks.  Shouldn't I care more how I am doing on an absolute scale?  And in fact, on an absolute scale, our poor are doing better than everyone else's poor, and better than many nation's middle classes.  I thought this analysis of poverty was interesting:  It is the number of people (per million) in a county living on less than $11 per day  (lower number and rank is better)

Per Capita Population Under $11 per Day

Poverty1

So, nations of Europe, how is that welfare state working out for you?  Socialist paradise Norway is 20 times worse!  How long will your poor be happy being told that, well, yes, the poor in the US are better off than you are, but you should feel better, because our rich in Europe are doing much worse than the rich in the US.

PS- Stats from NationMaster.com, a database of country by country statistics of all sorts.  Cool site, which also has a state by state counterpart.

Update:  Now that I have had time to poke around, I cannot find this data in the sources quoted, so it must be considered potentially suspect.  The sources quoted actually try to make the point that US lags Europe in fighting poverty, so the conclusion of the chart above is not even consistent with the sources.  (my guess is the data comes from the Luxemburg Income Study). However, it is interesting that this source material makes the same mistake I am trying to correct for here:  That is, it defines poverty as a percentage of the median income in the particular country, rather than an absolute value, such that a country can have poor who are better off but still fail on the metric.  You can see that here, where US has high poverty as on a "percent of median income" definition, but since we have the highest incomes in the world, it effectively gives the US the highest poverty bar to clear.

Here is what I am looking for:  Ideally, I would like to find a comparison of the median income say of the bottom quintile of each country, compared in absolute dollars on a PPP basis across countries.  I would like to see the number both before and after government transfer payments.  Europe, in their welfare economies, do better on poverty metrics when government transfer payments are included (and I am almost sure the chart above is before government transfer payments).  However, I would argue that for the long term health of the economy, you would like to see how the poor are doing before these payments.  Ultimately, and I will borrow a bit of environmentalist language here, this is going to be the most sustainable economy, where the poor gain wealth on their own, not from the welfare system.  In fact, the welfare state, and this was my original point, actually suppresses self-earned income of much of the poor by eliminating the incentive to work.  That is why I still think the chart at the top may be correct.

Update #2:  One other difference between the US and European nations is that we are much more open on immigration (yes, it may be illegal, but we pretty much still allow it).  These immigrants, legal or not, are counted in our economic and poverty stats.  If we assume there are about 15 million mostly poor illegal immigrants, plus millions of other quasi-legal immigrants, plus millions more who got amnesty in the 1980's, these immigrants add at least a fast five percentage points to any poverty metric the US is measured on. 

I have been surfing tonight, and it seems there are a ton of studies showing that US poverty is growing for some reason.  Duh.  Tens of millions of absolutely poor people, mainly from south of the border, have come to the US over the last several decades.  It is no secret all these immigrants are poor -- that is why they are coming here, to find something better for themselves.  Of course we have had a surge in poverty - we have been importing it like crazy!  I happen to be pro-immigration, but I am fed up with these studies that try to pin the blame on growing poverty in the US on government transfer payment policy.  It's the immigration, stupid!  Several studies particularly lament the fact that childhood poverty is rising in the US.  Can anyone think of a way this might be correlated to tens of millions of strongly Catholic Mexican immigrants, each and every one committed to large families?

Non-Objective Law

Via Hit and Run:

Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act - Makes it unlawful for any person
to sell crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, or petroleum distillates at a
price that: (1) is unconscionably excessive; or (2) indicates the
seller is taking unfair advantage unusual market conditions or the
circumstances of an emergency to increase prices unreasonably.

Well, since they establish such a bright-line legal standard like "unconscionably excessive," I guess it is OK.

Meet the New Boss

I am reading a fabulous book called "The Rise and Fall of Society" by Frank Chodorov.  It was apparently first published in 1959 and has been republished recently by the Mises Institute.  Here is an early bit I particularly liked:

One indication of how far the integration [between state and society] has gone is the disappearance of any discussion of the State qua State -- a discussion that engaged the best minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The inadequacies of a particular regime, or its personnel, are under constant attack, but there is no faultfinding with the institution itself.  The State is all right, by common agreement, and it would work perfectly well if the "right" people were at its helm.

His next line is clearly aimed at his conservative contemporaries

It does not occur to most critics of the New Deal that all its deficiencies are inherent in any State, under anybody's guidance, or that when the political establishment garners enough power a demagogue will sprout.

I offered up similar observations here, though aimed at the left, who at the time were the minority opposition party:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

If I Owned a Newspaper...

If I owned a newspaper, in the style guide I would ban the term "public service" as a synonym for political career, and I would ban the words "public servant" when describing a politician.

Though I have a number of people I pay for services, I consider each of these too honorable a relationship to say these folks are my "servants."  But if I did have servants, I absolutely guarantee that:

  1. They wouldn't take 40% of my pay
  2. They wouldn't micro-manage the smallest decisions in my life, and
  3. They wouldn't demand that my kids pledge allegiance to them every morning at school.

Someone Should Study this Phenomenon, Part 2

A few days ago, I was astounded to find that oil prices had a here-to-for unsuspected (at least by Congress) utility - that they can actually manage demand to help match supply.  But this strange phenomenon is even more amazing, because it now appears that higher oil prices also have the ability to stimulate investments in increasing production of this scarce commodity:

The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended
period of low oil prices, is on the rebound. Wildcatters like Mr.
Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices now hovering around $60 a
barrel "” three times higher than they were throughout the 1990s "” the
industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

"The oil
industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years," Mr. Bryant
says. "Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn't matter
if you've been in the business 100 years or 100 days."

Easily
available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil
companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to
finance energy projects while leaps in computing power, imaging
technology and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest
entities to compete on an equal footing with the biggest players.

"There's
a lot of money out there looking for opportunities," said John
Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial
Services. "It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now."

Advice to Nancy Pelosi and Maria Cantwell:  You may need to study this phenomenon.

Introducing Obama to Capitalism

Via TJIC:

In his commencement speech at Southern New Hampshire University
this morning, Obama - like most commencement speakers - delivered a
call to public service; unlike many, however, he also warned against
the charms of doing what most college graduates set out to do: Make
money.

"In a few minutes, you can take your diploma, walk off this
stage and go chasing after the big house and the large salary and the
nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you
should buy.

"But I hope you don't. Focusing your life solely on making a
buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And
it will leave you unfulfilled," he told the crowd.

This statement would certainly be true in 18th century European monarchies, in Soviet Russia, in third world Kleptocracies, in Cuba, and in Chavez's Venezuela.  Because making money in these environments is a zero-sum game, and the only way to get rich is to loot it from some poor schmuck who is actually creating the value.

But here in America, we (mostly) have this cool system called capitalism.  In capitalism, all interactions are based on the voluntary self-interest of the parties involved.  This means that one only can "make a buck" by doing something or making something that is of value to another person.  And only by successfully serving the needs of a LOT of people does one get really rich. 

TJIC's conclusion is wonderful:

Far better that they spend their life

  • majoring in political "science"
  • working for a meaningless non-profit
  • trying to register more people to vote so that the negative-sum game of politics can have more credibility
  • helping political partisans redrawn electoral district boundaries in the same negative-sum game of politics
  • being a senator, pushing for more regulations and tax increases

That, clearly, is a fulfilling life.

Let the suckers create value.

The best and brightest should just steal it, and move it around
(while taking some portion of it for themselves, and destroying another
portion of it).

Beware of people who try to demonstrate how much they "care" using other peoples' money.

The Battle Against Freedom of Association

Freedom of Association is not explicitly listed in the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has never-the-less upheld association rights in expressive organizations and for intimate associations, such as the family and more broadly in private social clubs.

The State of California continues its attack on Craigslist and Roommates.com trying to make these organizations liable for California Fair Housing Law violations when they publish a classified ad that breaks the law.  In short, it is illegal in California (and some other states) to advertise for a roommate who is a specific gender or race or religion, even if there are strong compatibility reasons for doing so (As in most states, it is A-OK to discriminate against smokers).

I won't get into the whole legal argument about these listing services, except to say that it is absurd to hold third parties accountable for other people's speech.  I want to ask a more general question.  How do laws that prevent me from choosing a roommate (however I want to) pass constitutional muster?  Taking on a stranger for a roommate is a scary proposition, especially in states like California that make it well nigh impossible to evict someone once they have moved in.  Short of marriage, it is hard to imagine a more intimate relationship -- in fact, many roommates probably see more of each other than some spouses.  On average, most people are probably not a compatible roommate for me.

Beyond this, most of the people who run afoul of the housing law do so with their speech, not the actual selection of a roommate.  Most fair housing complaints are against people's advertisements or public statements.  This strikes me as a double violation - the banning of speech about my association preferences. 

Greenpeace Blasts Exercise of Free Speech

Today, Greenpeace attacked ExxonMobil for exercising its free speech rights.  In particular, it criticized Exxon-Mobil for spending $2 million funding about 40 groups it calls "global warming skeptics."  For perspective (missing from this article), pro-anthropomorphic global warming research receives over $2 billion in the US alone (and that is just government money, it does not include private money), making Exxon's funding less than 0.1% of that provided to groups with opposing viewpoints. 

How settled can the science be if the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) believers feel horribly threatened by a group they outspend more than 1000:1?  This is like Hillary Clinton complaining that Mike Gravel is being allowed to spend too much money.  The AGW folks have consistently lost debates where they went head to head against credible skeptics.  If you don't want to argue the issues, you resort to ad hominem attacks.

By the way, shame on Exxon-Mobil for getting all defensive about their spending.  They should have said "sure we are skeptics, and we think there are a lot of good reasons to be skeptics.  In fact, we'd love to have a televised debate with Greenpeace on AGW."

Update: In a related announcement, scientists declared the science of Phlogiston settled.

Someone Should Study this Phenomenon

Of late, Democratic lawmakers have argued that gasoline prices are set at the caprice of oil companies, and mainly serve to provide them with undeserved profits.  However, we here at Coyote Blog try to bring you breaking news at the frontiers of scientific inquiry, and, via the USA Today, we get this fascinating revelation:

The average American motorist is driving
substantially fewer miles for the first time in 26 years because of
high gas prices and demographic shifts, according to a USA TODAY
analysis of federal highway data.

The growth in miles driven has leveled off
dramatically in the past 18 months after 25 years of steady climbs
despite the addition of more than 1 million drivers to the nation's
streets and highways since 2005. Miles driven in February declined 1.9%
from February 2006 before rebounding slightly for a 0.3% year-over-year
gain in March, data from the Federal Highway Administration show.
That's in sharp contrast to the average annual growth rate of 2.7%
recorded from 1980 through 2005....

The nation has not seen such stagnant growth in
driving since 1981, when the USA staggered through an oil shortage and
a recession. Gas prices reached an all-time high of $3.223 in March
1981 when adjusted for inflation in today's dollars.

Wow!  This seems to imply that prices have a here-to-for unsuspected utility.  They might actually be useful for matching supply and demand of scarce resources.  Fascinating.  Maybe Congress can commission a study of this phenomenon.

Postscript: Leaving the snark aside, it is hilarious in this article to see an urban planning group trying to bend over backwards to say that really, price was only a minor factor -- this really had to do with demographics and the success of our urban planning and public transportation.  Of course, it's just a coincidence that this step change occurred at the same time as a gas price spike, and that the last time it happened was the last time that gas price spiked.  Note that none of the data in the article actually supports the point of view that this was anything but a direct response to price signals.

How NOT to Choose a Copyright Attorney

Absolutely hilarious interaction between TJIC and an attorney looking for class actions in all the wrong places.  Extra marks for gratuitous Conan reference. 

And while we are on the subject of class actions, note this case in Overlawyered  where the class itself received a sum total (not average per person, but cumulative total) of $2,402 while their lawyers received $1,000,000.  Once a useful tool for redressing fraudulent behavior, class actions now have become primarily either 1) a profit-making-through-extortion tool for lawyers or 2) a way to legislate without actually going to the legislature. 

Watch the Daily Show

I know a number of my readers are also friends with my Princeton roommate Brink Lindsey.  Look for Brink tonight on the Daily Show with John Stewart at 11PM EST on Comedy Central.

Climate Consensus - NOT!

This is an outstanding post that a reader sent me that offers a number of climate scientists in their own words taking issue with the climate consensus on CO2-driven anthropogenic global warming.  I won't convince you that man-made CO2 is not one cause for warming -- at this point in the science's development, that would be as big a mistake as declaring AGW theory "settled."  However, for those who get beaten about the head with "consensus" every time you ask a skeptical question about AGW, you should enjoy this article.  This is just one of the 13 vignettes on newly minted skeptics the author highlights:

Botanist Dr. David Bellamy, a famed UK environmental campaigner, former lecturer at Durham University and host of a popular UK TV series on wildlife,
recently converted into a skeptic after reviewing the science and now
calls global warming fears "poppycock." According to a May 15, 2005 article
in the UK Sunday Times, Bellamy said "global warming is largely a
natural phenomenon.  The world is wasting stupendous amounts of money
on trying to fix something that can't be fixed." "The climate-change
people have no proof for their claims. They have computer models which
do not prove anything," Bellamy added. Bellamy's conversion on global
warming did not come without a sacrifice as several environmental
groups have ended their association with him because of his views on
climate change. The severing of relations came despite Bellamy's long
activism for green campaigns. The UK Times reported Bellamy "won
respect from hardline environmentalists with his campaigns to save
Britain's peat bogs and other endangered habitats. In Tasmania he was
arrested when he tried to prevent loggers cutting down a rainforest."

Here is a copy of the petition sent to the Canadian government which several of the people in the article refer to.  One taste:

Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate
models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the
future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating
and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which
Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were
realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation
of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion
of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to
convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most
prudent and responsible course of action....

While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policyformulation.
The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an "emerging
science," one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be
many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate
system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the
protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern
about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew
what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not
exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary....

"Climate change is real" is a
meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public
that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause.
Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the
time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains
impossible to distinguish from this natural "noise." The new Canadian
government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is
commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be
irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes
of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to
whatever nature throws at us next.

It is signed by scientific no-names like Freeman Dyson and Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology, Dept.
of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology

Google Music Search

Possibly this is one of those things that everyone but me knows about, but Google apparently has a search function for music.  I found it only because I was searching for the Rolling Stones and found this search page.  Its got track listings and ratings.  Kind of cool.