Archive for June 2007

A Question for Managers: Could You Do This?

From a WSJ online article on the iPone:

Aaron Rheingold, an intern at Universal Music, said his boss sent him
to wait in line. "I got stuck on iPhone detail," he said. "I'm not
getting anything out of this, except maybe a pat on the back and free
lunch." He says his boss postponed his flight to Puerto Rico today to
be back in the office when Mr. Rheingold returns with the goods.

Perhaps I am just a modern, soft, girly-man, oprah-fied manager, but I could not in a million years imagine asking one of my employees to go wait overnight in line for me so I could get an iPhone before my peers.  And that is in a private company where my employees' salary comes out of my pocket.  I would be even less likely to send out an employee whose salary is paid by the shareholders of a publicly-traded company.

Nothing Sinister Here. Move Along.

A while back, I discussed an effort by Anthony Watts to create a pictorial data base of the US Historical Climate Network, the 1000 or so temperature and weather sensors whose data are used in historical climate numbers, including IPCC and NOAA and GISS global warming data bases. 

Already, this effort has identified numerous egregious installations that call into question the quality of historical temperature measurement.  Note here and here and here and here.  The whole data base is at SurfaceStations.org and my humble contributions are here and here.  Was 2006 the second warmest of all time, or did 2006 have the most hot exhaust blowing on measurement instruments?

Roger Pielke, a climate scientist in Colorado, reports on an odd response by the NOAA to this effort:

Recently, Anthony Watts has established a website [www.surfacestations.org] to record these photographs. He has worked to assure that the photographs are obtained appropriately.

As a result of this effort, NOAA has removed location information
from their website as to where they are located. This information has
been available there for years.

There are a few USHCN stations at people's homes, so in some cases there may be privacy concerns, but most all of the ones I have seen are at public locations, from fire houses to ranger stations to water plants.  Pielke offers up a logical solution for where there are privacy issues:

"over 4 years ago there was a big push in the Cooperative Observer
program to make sure that all 7000+ sites across the country were
photodocumented. All 120 Data Acquisition Programs were equipped with
high quality digital cameras. Most took photos. However, at the higher
levels where they were developing the upload and archive system for the
photos the issue of observer privacy was raised and as best we can tell
the result was that those photos were not archived and certainly are
not available."

This is a very disturbing development, as individuals in NOAA's
leadership have used their authority to prevent the scientific
community and the public access to critical information that is being
used as part of establishing climate and energy policy in the United
States.

The solution to this issue is, of course, straightforward. Either
make the photographs where datasets are being used in research (i.e.
the HCN sites), available, or permit others to take them. Privacy
rules, such as not publishing the names and addresses of the observers,
should be made, however, the photographs themselves, viewing the site,
and views in the four orthogonal directions must be public. Volunteers
who are HCN Cooperative Observers need to either grant this permission
or not volunteer.

If you observe the state of climate science at all, you will know that any measurement (e.g. satellite or radiosonde temperature measurements) that conflict even the slightest with the main story line of anthropogenic global warming are subjected to intense and withering scrutiny.  Even the tiniest source of error or methodological sloppiness in these conflicting data sets cause global warming zealots to throw out the data as flawed.  It is instructive that perhaps the sloppiest data set of all is the surface climate measurement system they use primarily to support their case, and it is one they show absolutely no interest in scrutinizing, or letting anyone else scrutinize.

Where's The Symmetry?

I am sitting in the airport now about to fly back to Phoenix.  I generally fly America West / US Airways, because they have a hub in Phoenix and doing so maximizes my chance both of getting non-stop flights as well as accumulating a meaningful frequent flier balance with a singe airline.

After way too many round trips, I have the following observation:  I am much more likely to get an elite upgrade returning home than on the outbound leg.   I have seen this effect both flying the hub airline out of Phoenix and previously flying United out of Denver.   Now, as a hub city, Phoenix has a disproportionate number of US Airways elite members, just as Denver has a disproportionate number of United elite members.  So competing with a lot of other elite members for limited upgrade seats is understandable out of Phoenix, but shouldn't it be symmetric coming back?  I have three theories:

  • Observer error, though I will say I have a fairly large number of observation points to many different cities from two different hub cities
  • I am flying when the Elite's like to fly outbound, but I tend to take unpopular flights back.  Possible.  Most business travelers tend to fly outbound in the morning on the first flight, but they may all come back different times of day depending on their business.  This is one potential asymmetry.
  • The airlines give preference on upgrades to through passengers.  I have never heard this, but it might explain it.  Outbound from a hub, many of the people on my flight are on the second flight, having just changed planes.  Going home, towards a hub, everyone is in the same boat as me, on their first leg.  I don't think the airlines differentiate, but this is the only other asymmetry I can come up with.

Parable of Gasoline and Milk

Today, the price of gasoline at the pump before taxes is about $2.50 a gallon.  The price of milk per gallon is about $3.50 a gallon, and may rise to $5.00 by the fall

So I will present you with a heresy:  Gasoline is an absolutely screaming deal.  Having worked a brief stint in the oil industry, it is incredible what has to happen and the investments that are in place to get gas into your car.  Offshore oil platforms, dealing with unstable governments, thousand mile long pipelines, fleets of supertankers, huge complex refineries, and massive distribution networks are required to get gas to your car.  And yet, it's a buck cheaper than milk, which in comparison is nearly trivial to produce.  Sure, the milk needs a little processing and transportation, but compare this to oil, where processing involves reforming the very molecules in the oil to perfect the gas, and where transportation is across distances one to two orders of magnitude greater than for milk.  And don't even get me started on production:  a) cow  b) offshore oil platform in 1000 foot deep water.

It is perhaps even more instructive to see how the government regulates these two commodities.  Oil companies are constantly harassed by government as the world's great Satans, with windfall profits taxes and price gouging regulations, all on an industry that barely makes a 10% profit on sales in the best of times.  Milk, on the other hand, gets huge government subsidies and handouts, including a price support system that is both arcane and incredibly costly.  So Oil:  windfall profits taxes.  Milk, which is pricier but easier to produce: price supports.  Does anyone really want to argue that regulation is a result of real market realities rather than just populist pandering for and against favored and unfavored groups?

Anti-Universal Coverage

Michael Canon has proposed for principles of an anti-universal health care coverage club:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To
    achieve "universal coverage" would require either having the government
    provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it.
      Government provision is undesirable, because government does a poor job of improving quality or efficiency.  Forcing
    people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for
    everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government
    intervention.
  3. In a free country, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize those who cannot afford medical care,
    they should be free to experiment with different types of subsidies
    (cash, vouchers, insurance, public clinics & hospitals,
    uncompensated care payments, etc.) and tax exemptions, rather than be
    forced by a policy of "universal coverage" to subsidize people via
    "insurance."

You know I'm in;  after all, I am the one that has said that "universal coverage is as if, in the Great Society public housing programs, everyone in the country, not just the poor, had been required to tear down their current houses and enter monolithic public housing structures."

However, I would have added a fifth principle:  Health care decision-making and tradeoffs amongst cost, quality, and
content of care should belong to the individual, except when an
individual delegates this decision in some way by his own choice (say
by joining a very structured HMO program).

I wrote about the joys of actually shopping for health care under a high-deductible policy here and here.  Michael Canon also has a new post on shopping and HSA's here.

Anti-Universal Coverage

Michael Canon has proposed for principles of an anti-universal health care coverage club:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To
    achieve "universal coverage" would require either having the government
    provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it.
      Government provision is undesirable, because government does a poor job of improving quality or efficiency.  Forcing
    people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for
    everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government
    intervention.
  3. In a free country, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize those who cannot afford medical care,
    they should be free to experiment with different types of subsidies
    (cash, vouchers, insurance, public clinics & hospitals,
    uncompensated care payments, etc.) and tax exemptions, rather than be
    forced by a policy of "universal coverage" to subsidize people via
    "insurance."

You know I'm in;  after all, I am the one that has said that "universal coverage is as if, in the Great Society public housing programs, everyone in the country, not just the poor, had been required to tear down their current houses and enter monolithic public housing structures."

However, I would have added a fifth principle:  Health care decision-making and tradeoffs amongst cost, quality, and
content of care should belong to the individual, except when an
individual delegates this decision in some way by his own choice (say
by joining a very structured HMO program).

I wrote about the joys of actually shopping for health care under a high-deductible policy here and here.  Michael Canon also has a new post on shopping and HSA's here.

Equal Time

In a prior post, I asked the left if they were uncomfortable with liberal judges being on the wrong side of free speech in the recent BCRA-related decision.  As equal time, in the spirit of the heinous Fairness Doctrine again raising its ugly head, I will ask the right if they are comfortable with conservative justices being on the wrong side of property rights and government power in Wilkie v. Robbins.

By the way, speaking of the Fairness Doctrine, its instructive that the incumbent political parties consider fairness to mean equal time for all the ... incumbent political parties.  Its interesting that no one in Congress takes the law to mean equal time for Greens or Libertarians or White Supremacists.

Diminishing Return

I know a number of readers are tired of my writing about climate, so I am instead taking a shot at writing a comprehensive skeptic's argument on Anthropogenic Global Warming.  A free pdf will be available for download next week, with a bound copy available for purchase at manufacturing cost.

In the mean time, Luboš Motl presents one of the core skeptics arguments, that CO2 heat absorption is a diminishing return relationship to concentration, making frequent predictions of runaway climate scenarios a real head-scratcher.

In terms of numbers, we have already completed 40% of the task to
double the CO2 concentration from 0.028% to 0.056% in the atmosphere.
However, these 40% of the task have already realized about 2/3 of the
warming effect attributable to the CO2 doubling. So regardless of the
sign and magnitude of the feedback effects, you can see that physics
predicts that the greenhouse warming between 2007 and 2100 is predicted
to be one half (1/3 over 2/3) of the warming that we have seen between
the beginning of industrialization and this year. For example, if the
greenhouse warming has been 0.6 Celsius degrees, we will see 0.3
Celsius degrees of extra warming before the carbon dioxide
concentration doubles around 2100.

It's just like when you want
your bedroom to be white. You paint it once, twice, thrice. But when
you're painting it for the sixteenth time, you may start to realize
that the improvement after the sixteenth round is no longer that
impressive.

If CO2 is not responsible for all the 0.6C of historic warming (a proposition for which there are good arguments) then future warming is even less.  Read it all for more detail, or look for my paper next week which covers this topic and many, many others in more depth.  There are lots of complications - aerosols, dimming, feedbacks - that are discussed in the paper.

Tattoos are the New Black

A while back, writing about charges of discrimination by white referees against blacks in NBA foul calls, I said:

My sense is that we make snap decisions about other people based on a
wide range of physical attributes, including height, attractiveness,
clothing, tattoos, piercings as well as visible racial characteristics
(e.g. skin color) and race-related appearance choices (e.g. cornrows).
It would be interesting to see where skin color falls against these
other visible differentiators as a driver of third party decisions
(e.g. whether to call a foul).   My sense is that 60 years ago, skin
color would be factor #1 and all these others would be orders of
magnitude behind.  Today?  I don't know.  While skin color hasn't gone
away as an influencer, it may be falling into what we might call the
"background level", less than or equal to some of these other effects.
It would be interesting, for example, to make the same study on level
of visible tattooing and the effect on foul calls.  My sense is that
this might be of the same order of magnitude today as skin color in
affecting such snap decisions.

I may have been on to something:

Russell says in the last two months he's applied for over 100 jobs. In
almost half of them, he says he was denied because of his tattoos. He
says that's discrimination.

Due Process, Even for Accountants

I know that no one seems to really give a crap about due process for accountants nowadays, perhaps an over-swing of the pendulum from the days when no one really cared much about prosecuting white collar crime, but some of the Justice Departments prosecutorial abuses are finally coming back to haunt them.

The Justice Department's case against 16 former KPMG partners for tax
evasion continues to unravel, with prosecutors themselves conceding
late last week that federal Judge Lewis Kaplan has little choice but to
dismiss the charges against most of the defendants.

Judge Kaplan ruled
last year that Justice had violated the defendants' Constitutional
rights by pressuring KPMG not to pay their legal fees. He is now
considering a defense motion to dismiss. Prosecutors continue to
protest the judge's ruling but on Friday they admitted in a court
filing that dismissal is the only remedy for the rights violations. The
more honorable route would have been for prosecutors to acknowledge
their mistakes and dismiss the charges themselves.

The truth is that
this tax shelter case should never have been brought. Both KPMG and its
partners believed the shelters they marketed were legal, and no tax
court had ruled against the shelters before Justice brought its
criminal charges. Then prosecutors used the threat of criminal
indictment against all of KPMG to extort an admission of guilt from the
firm and force it to stop paying the legal bills of individual partners.

I'll Accept This Description

David Boaz:

Maybe libertarians should try to describe their philosophy by saying
"libertarians believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe
in, and the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in."

Internet Radio Day of Silence

I found this when I went to Pandora today (one of those applications that makes the Internet so entirely cool and worth all the spam and flame wars).  I found this message:

Hi, it's Tim from Pandora,

I'm sorry to say that
today Pandora, along with most Internet radio sites, is going off the
air in observance of a Day Of Silence. We are doing this to bring to
your attention a disastrous turn of events that threatens the existence
of Pandora and all of internet radio. We need your help.

Ignoring all rationality and responding only to the
lobbying of the RIAA, an arbitration committee in Washington DC has
drastically increased the licensing fees Internet radio sites must pay
to stream songs. Pandora's fees will triple, and are retroactive for
eighteen months! Left unchanged by Congress, every day will be like
today as internet radio sites start shutting down and the music dies.

A bill called the "Internet Radio Equality Act" has already
been introduced in both the Senate (S. 1353) and House of
Representatives (H.R. 2060) to fix the problem and save Internet
radio--and Pandora--from obliteration.

I'd like to ask you to call your Congressional
representatives today and ask them to become co-sponsors of the bill.
It will only take a few minutes and you can find your Congresspersons and their phone numbers by entering your zip code here.

Your opinion matters to your representatives - so please take just a minute to call.

Visit www.savenetradio.org to continue following the fight to Save Internet Radio.

As always, and now more than ever, thank you for your support.

 


  -Tim Westergren
  (Pandora founder)

Jane Galt on Immigration

Jane Galt takes on some of the more common anti-immigration talking points.  Just for example:

5. There were ethnic newspapers, but nothing like today's ethnic media.

This is just ridiculous. Immigrants in 1900 could get all the
entertainment that was then available in their own language; for
example, by 1918, New York City boasted 20 Yiddish theaters.
The idea that Latin American immigrants are somehow uniquely unable to
assimilate because they can now watch soap operas and the Venezuelan
version of Eurovision in their very own language seems to me
self-evidently absurd; an immigrant at home watching television in
Spanish is immersed in her own culture no more thoroughly than was the
typical resident of an ethnic neighbourhood who shopped, worked, went
to services, and partied entirely with their compatriots.

I am working on some research right now -- immigration opponents are claiming that "yes, immigration may have been OK in the past, but its different now."  I am in the process of putting together anti-immigration quotes from the late 19th and early 20th century that cover all of the same ground -- they're lazy, they breed too fast, they have disease, they don't integrate, they have divided loyalties -- but aimed at Irish and Italians.

A Real Mixed Week for Free Speech

On the positive side, the Supreme Court has struck down portions of the BCRA, also known as McCain-Feingold:

The Court concluded that Wisconsin Right to Life's ads, which urged
people to contact their senators (including one who was up for
re-election) about the confirmation of judicial nominees, did not
constitute either. The majority said "a court should find that an ad is
the functional equivalent of express advocacy only if the ad is
susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to
vote for or against a specific candidate." To put it another way,
BCRA's pre-election blackout cannot be constitutionally applied to a
spot that reasonably can be viewed as an issue ad, which means interest
groups are once again free to engage in public policy debates on the
air, no matter what time of year it is.

By the way, does anyone on the left feel at all worried that the four liberal judges were on the "limit speech" side of this issue?

But at the same time, the Supreme Court upheld speech limitations against High School students based on the content of the speech.  The rights of non-adults is a complicated issue, but precedent has been set that student speech is generally protected unless it is significantly disruptive of the school's functioning.  Except, it appears, when it is related to drugs.  This is part of a disturbing trend where an increasing number of topics, from "hate" speech to drug legalization speech are considered to be exceptions to the First Amendment.  However, almost everyone on the court seemed to have a different view on this, so it may be hard to generalize here.  Even the concurring opinions ranged the gamut from "this is narrowly aimed only at speech about narcotics" to "there is no free speech right in schools for minors."

And, speaking of hate speech, out in wacky Oakland, the world leader in Ebonics studies,

Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family
values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.

At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city's government says those
words, italicized here, constitute something akin to hate speech and
can be proscribed from the government's open e-mail system and employee
bulletin board. ...

Some African American Christian women working for Oakland's
government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which
they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for
people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of
the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family
Values."

The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including
those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and
activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the
GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that
board, it was denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down
and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic" and
disruptive.

The city government said the flier was "determined" to promote
harassment based on sexual orientation. The city warned that the flier
and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to
and including termination."

We might as well just repeal the First Amendment now and save time if we continue to believe that the government should ban any speech that offends someone.

Oh, and while we were talking about kids and drugs, check out this awesome rant by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark.

He wants to reserve prison cells for those who do violence and
divert the nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs and
halfway houses.

He wants to change the New Jersey laws that
bar many ex-cons from getting a driver's license. He wants a black kid
from Newark who sells marijuana to clear his record as easily as the
white kid from the suburbs who buys it.

He wants to stop banning ex-cons from such a long list of jobs, including warehouse jobs at the nearby airport.

The scale of the problem is staggering: About 1,500 convicts are
released from state prison to Newark each year, and 1,000 of them will
likely be arrested again within three years -- mostly for drug crimes.

"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."

Good, its about time.  Not to be misunderstood, I would kick my kid's asses from here to the moon if I found them doing hard drugs.  But I want the responsibility to mold and repair their behavior to be mine, an option that is cut off if they get thrown in jail (which they probably wouldn't, since my kids are well off and white).  It is fine and fairly rational that we have determined as a society that kids can mess up their life doing drugs.  It is insane -- totally insane -- that our response is that we will respond by ... messing their life up even worse by throwing them in jail.

Senate Passes Massive Farm-Subsidy Bill

Though it is nominally called an "energy" bill, the Senate just passed the largest farm-subsidy bill in history:

The legislation would require ethanol production for motor fuels to
grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold
increase over the amount of ethanol processed last year. It also calls
for boosting auto fuel economy to a fleet average of 35 miles per
gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements for
cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.

The evidence is absolutely unequivocal that corn-based ethanol doesn't reduce net energy use, since it takes at least as much energy to grow and produce as it provides.  It is even worse as environmental policy, since it almost certainly increases total pollution and CO2 production, particularly as ethanol is produced with Midwestern coal-powered electricity.   In addition, it is going to cause marginal lands and open space to be brought into corn production, reversing a 70-year trend in the US towards increases in wilderness and forested land.  It is going to increase fuel costs to no real purpose.  This is dumb, dumb, dumb.  So stupid that I can't even get the energy to criticize the new CAFE standards.  If they really wanted to meet their goals, a carbon tax would have been cheaper and more effective, but that would have taken political guts.

All Your DNA Are Belong To Us

Boy, I totally missed this, and I live in Arizona.  Not until Reason highlighted the case was it even brought to my attention.  Apparently, Arizona is going to collect DNA samples from many of the people they arrest:

State lawmakers voted Tuesday to expand the state's DNA database
dramatically by requiring all people arrested for certain crimes to
provide DNA samples for state records whether they are convicted or not.

Conservative and liberal lawmakers alike raised alarms that the measure
would violate the civil liberties of people never convicted of a crime
and set a dangerous precedent for government collection of sensitive
genetic information.

"I think it is egregious," Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, a conservative
Republican from Gilbert and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,
said on the House floor Tuesday. "It tramples on the liberties and
freedom of the people."

Apparently, the change is sneaking through buried in a budget bill.  And there are people our there who still trust the government?

 

Why People Disagree on Whether Real Income is Increasing

I am always sort of amazed when blogsphere debates erupt around issues of fact.  Specifically, people have been debating whether real income is increasing for the average person.  This seems a bizarre debate - lets just look at the table and see.  However, real vs. nominal numbers, cherry-picking end points, and the like, allow folks to come up with opposite conclusions.

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek
points to another reason we can debate:  Much of the real income growth over the last five years has been from non-cash benefits, like medical and pension contributions.

Comp

Best Passage I Read This Week

From Tyler Cowen:

The power of wealth creation to produce net value is extraordinary.
Most of America's poor are already among the best-off of all humans in
world history.  We should be putting our resources, including our
advocacy and our intellectual resources, into wealth creation as much
as we can.

HMO's at 15% Approval

Apparently, HMO's only have a 15% approval rate with Americans.  People don't like the waits, and the institutional service, but, more than anything, they don't like someone in the HMO back office rationing their care based on pre-set formulas about what care or test is appropriate in each given situation.

All well and good.  However, if this is so, then why does the idea of universal government health care appeal to so many people?  Because if universal health care turns out as well as it possibly could, then the best we could expect is that it will resemble... current HMO's.  And unfortunately, it will probably be worse.  Because today, the guy in the HMO back office who is setting up the allowed care formulas knows that if he cuts things back too far, you will go to another competitor.  No such threat or incentive will exist for the government bureaucrat, who will be setting the formulas based on stupid mindless rules and interst-group pressures and absolutely no concern about your satisfaction.

Signal to Noise Ratio, Part 2

Anthony Watts and Steven McIntyre make an interesting observation, using an example temperature measurement point in the US and Global Historical Climate Network (the network that most historic global warming estimates are made from).

Over time, temperature measurement points, even those nominally in the same town, tend to change.  The measurement technology changes (from bulbs to electronics) the location can move across town, and towns with their heat islands can encroach.  As a result, scientists try to make guesstimate corrections to the historical data to take these events into account. 

Taking just one example measurement point, at Petaluma CA, Watts and McIntyre show how two different adjustment approaches by scientists at this location change the historic warming measured by over 1.5 degrees C.  Note that this "noise" is more than twice the value of the estimated "signal" -- the estimated 0.6 degrees C global warming over the last century.

More on signal to noise ratios in global warming measurement.

Universal Health Care Leads to Speech Limitations

As I wrote in a previous post, state-run health care tends to act as a Trojan Horse for increased government micro-management of our lives by giving the government a financial interest in our health and risk-related decision-making.  A reader sends along this article demonstrating this effect yet again:

An attempt to revive famous TV adverts
from the 1950s that encouraged people to "Go To Work On An Egg"
have been blocked by regulators on health grounds.

The British Egg Information Service (BEIS) had wanted to
bring back the adverts featuring comedian Tony Hancock to mark
the 50th anniversary of the British Lion mark.

But the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC)
said the famous commercials could not be repeated because
eating eggs every day went against the policy of encouraging
people to eat a varied diet.

"The concept of eating eggs every day for breakfast goes
against what is now the generally accepted advice of a varied
diet and we therefore could not approve the ads for broadcast,"
a BACC spokesman told the BBC.

PS-  Readers who send me stuff - let me know if I can use your name when you email me the post.  When I sit down to blog in short bursts, I am happy to give specific credit but I am always unsure whether to use your real names or not.

The "Crisis" Looks a Lot Like State-Run Medicine

The USAToday published a front-page story today arguing that a health care "crisis" looks a lot like Houston, Texas.  I would argue, from their descriptions, that a health care "crisis" looks exactly like state-run medicine.

Ijeoma Onye awoke one day last month short of
breath, her head pounding. Her daughter, Ebere Hawkins, drove her 45
minutes from Katy, Texas, to Ben Taub General Hospital, where people
without health insurance pay little or nothing for treatment.

Onye, 62, waited four hours to be seen. Still,
going to the emergency room was faster than getting an appointment. For
that, "you have to wait months," Hawkins says....

The huge number of uninsured residents here means that health officials
must make tough decisions every day about who gets treated and when.
"Does this mean rationing? You bet it does," says Kenneth Mattox, chief
of staff at Ben Taub, the Houston area's pre-eminent trauma care
facility.

The article goes on and on like this.  The problem is delays and queuing in facilities that provide free care.   And the difference between this and state-run health care is what exactly?  When a product or service is free, people will tend to over-consume the supply, with rationing taking place via queuing rather than price.  This is how every state-run supply system works, from food in the Soviet Union to health care in Canada.  And by the way, exactly how upset should I be about people receiving an extraordinarily valuable and costly service for free but having to wait a while to get it?

This article is actually a great rebuttal of the inherent message in
the health care debate that "uninsured" means "denied health care."  In
fact, it is clear that even in the spot USAToday picked out as the worst in
the country, the uninsured are in fact getting health care.  It is tedious with long waits, but there are no examples in the long article of people going without.  Yes some people consume less than they might if it was free and convenient, but that is just the rationing at work.  Anyone who says that rationing goes away in a state-run system is bald-faced lying to you.

Remember that national health care does not eliminate queuing and waits for the poor -- it just institutionalizes these waits for the rest of us.   Universal Health Care is equivalent to a Great Society housing program where everyone, rich and poor, have to give up their house and move into a crappy public apartment block.

Postscript: By the way, I am sympathetic to certain hospital administrators who have a "crisis" on their hands because the mass of uninsured show up in their emergency rooms.  That, however, is a problem manageable far short of government-run health care.  They want to blame diversions of critical patients away from over-crowded emergency rooms on the "uninsured" but it is really a function of their own faulty triage.

Update: Michael Moore will soon argue that its better in Cuba.  Hah! That is funny.  If people really want to believe this, then it is another reason is is way past time to open up our relations to Cuba, so people can see for themselves what a lying sack of poop this filmmaker is.

A Gutless Tax

I understand the environmental logic to tax petroleum -- I don't particularly agree with it, but some sort of carbon-based tax is probably the least-bad way to achieve various environmental goals (I will leave for other posts whether these goals make any sense).

However, the Senate's proposal to tax oil companies directly, rather than the oil or petroleum products themselves, is a gutless chickenshit maneuver that is just so typical of politicians.  A tax on oil companies is less efficient than a direct carbon tax on the fuel (because it is operating less directly on price signals), but it makes sense to our political masters for several reasons:

  • Populist Congressman can argue to their constituencies that "we didn't tax you consumers, we taxed those evil bloated oil companies."  Of course, in the end, the money comes from consumers anyway.  That's just basic economics.
  • Oil companies, not politicians, get blamed for collecting the tax from consumers.  This is an tried-and-true approach, that has worked well with gasoline taxes embedded in pump prices.
  • When oil prices inevitably rise due to the tax, the Congress will use this oil price rise as a rallying cry to...increase taxes more.  It is the classic government win-win of proposing increased regulations to solve problems caused by government regulations.

This part is even worse:

Another measure, pushed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was aimed at
collected $10.7 billion in royalties the government has been unable to
collect because of flawed oil leasing contracts issued by the Interior
Department in 1998-99. The government would collect an excise tax on
any oil taken from the Gulf of Mexico, subject to royalties not being
paid.

Here is what happened:  The government wrote offshore lease/royalty contracts in a certain way.  Oil companies read the contract language, and entered into the contract as written, and subsequently invested billions of dollars to develop the leases.  More recently, as oil prices rose, the government thinks it made a bad deal, and should have written the contracts differently.  The solution for private companies who make a bad deal: live with it.  The solution for the government, though, it apparently to use the coercive power of the government to extract the royalties you failed to put in the contract 18 years ago via special excise taxes.

And don't even get me started on this farm subsidy program masquerading as energy policy:

The bill would funnel about $11 billion over 10 years into the
development of renewable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and power
from wind turbines in a combination of extensions of existing tax
breaks and new tax benefits. An additional $18 billion in tax breaks "”
from tax credits to clean and renewable energy bonds "” also were
approved.

We are making a mistake of epic proportions pouring money and regulatory breaks into ethanol.  Ethanol, in the form we ar investing in it in this country, does NOTHING to reduce our oil use or improve the environment or reduce CO2 emissions.  Nada.  All it does is increase taxes, increase fuel prices, increase food prices, and, soon, cause environmental problems as marginal lands are brought into corn production.  I made a plea to stop this before it is too late, ie before the industry becomes so entrenched it will be politically impossible to cut it off.  I fear we are rapidly approaching this point of no return.

Because the Government is Always Cutting Edge

From a USA Today story on All-Star Ballot counting:

The technology used is so advanced that not even the government has caught up.

Maybe the govenrment might be assumed to lead the private sector in missile defense systems and such.  But in ballot counting?

Does this Make Sense?

I am just finishing up my paper "A Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming," and one thing I encounter a lot with sources and websites that are strong supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theory is that they will often say such-and-such argument by skeptics was just disproved by so-and-so. 

For example, skeptics often argue that historical temperature records do not correct enough for the effects of urbanization on long-term measurement points.  The IPCC, in fact, has taken the position that what is called the urban heat island effect is trivial, and does not account for much or any of measured warming over the last 100 years.  To this end, one of the pro-AGW sites (either RealClimate.org or the New Scientist, I can't remember which) said that "Parker in 2006 has disproved the urban heat island effect."

Now, if you were going to set out to do such a thing, how would you do it?  The logical way, to me, would be to draw a line from the center of the city to the rural areas surrounding it, and take a bunch of identical thermometers and have people record temperatures every couple of miles along this line.  Then you could draw a graph of temperature vs. nearness to the city center, and see what you would find.

Is that what Parker did?  Uh, no.  I turn it over to Steve McIntyre, one of the two men who helped highlight all the problems with the Mann hockey stick several years ago.

If you are not a climate scientist (or a realclimate reader), you
would almost certainly believe, from your own experience, that cities
are warmer than the surrounding countryside - the "urban heat island".
From that, it's easy to conclude that as cities become bigger and as
towns become cities and villages become towns, that there is a
widespread impact on urban records from changes in landscape, which
have to be considered before you can back out what portion is due to
increased GHG.

One of the main IPCC creeds is that the urban heat island effect has
a negligible impact on large-scale averages such as CRU or GISS. The
obvious way of proving this would seem to be taking measurements on an
urban transect and showing that there is no urban heat island. Of
course, Jones and his associates can't do that because such transects
always show a substantial urban heat island. So they have to resort to
indirect methods to provide evidence of "things unseen", such as Jones
et al 1990, which we've discussed in the past.

The newest entry in the theological literature is Parker (2004, 2006),
who, once again, does not show the absence of an urban heat island by
direct measurements, but purports to show the absence of an effect on
large-scale averages by showing that the temperature trends on calm
days is comparable to that on windy days. My first reaction to this,
and I'm sure that others had the same reaction was: well, so what? Why
would anyone interpret that as evidence one way or the other on UHI?

He goes on to take the study apart in detail, but I think most of you can see that the methodology makes absolutely zero sense unless one is desperately trying to toe the party line and win points with AGW supporters by finding some fig leaf to cover up this urban heat island problem.  By the way, plenty of people have performed the analysis the logical way we discussed first, and have shown huge heat island effects:

Uhi(Click for a larger view)

The bottom axis by the way is a "sky-view" metric I had not seen before, but is a measurement of urban topology.  Effectively the more urbanized and the more tall buildings around you that create a canyon effect, the lower the sky view fraction.  Note that no one gets a number for the Urban Heat Island effect less than 1 degree C, and many hover around 6 degrees (delta temperature from urban location to surrounding rural countryside).  Just a bit higher than the 0.2C assumed by the IPCC.  Why would they assume such a low number in the face of strong evidence?  Because assuming a higher number would reduce historical warming numbers, silly.

Oh, and the IPCC argues that the measurement points it uses around the world are all rural locations so urban heat island corrections are irrelevant.  Below are some sample photos of USHCN sites, which are these supposedly rural sites that are used in the official historical warming numbers.  By the way, these US sites are probably better than what you would find anywhere else in the world. (All pictures from surfacesations.org)  As always, you can click for a larger view.

Marysville_issues1 

Forestgrove

Tahoe_city3

Petaluma_east

You can help with the effort of documenting all the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN) stations.  See my post here -- I have already done two and its fun!