Archive for July 2007

Lord of the Bad Plan

TJIC points to more poor decision-making by LOTR characters.  I can't take these criticisms seriously after seeing the Lord of all ring-plan critiques here:

More Thoughts on Historic Temperature Adjustments

A few posts back, I showed how nearly 85% of the reported warming in the US over the last century is actually due to adjustments and added fudge-factors by scientists rather than actual measured higher temperatures.  I want to discuss some further analysis Steve McIntyre has done on these adjustments, but first I want to offer a brief analogy.

Let's say you had two compasses to help you find north, but the compasses are reading incorrectly.  After some investigation, you find that one of the compasses is located next to a strong magnet, which you have good reason to believe is strongly biasing that compass's readings.  In response, would you

  1. Average the results of the two compasses and use this mean to guide you, or
  2. Ignore the output of the poorly sited compass and rely solely on the other unbiased compass?

Most of us would quite rationally choose #2.  However, Steve McIntyre shows us a situation involving two temperature stations in the USHCN network in which government researchers apparently have gone with solution #1.  Here is the situation:

He compares the USHCN station at the Grand Canyon (which appears to be a good rural setting) with the Tucson USHCN station I documented here, located in a parking lot in the center of a rapidly growing million person city.   Unsurprisingly, the Tucson data shows lots of warming and the Grand Canyon data shows none.  So how might you correct Tucson and the Grand Canyon data, assuming they should be seeing about the same amount of warming?  Would you
average them, effectively adjusting the two temperature readings
towards each other, or would you assume the Grand Canyon data is cleaner
with fewer biases and adjust Tucson only?   Is there anyone who would not choose the second option, as with the compasses?

The GISS data set, created by the Goddard Center of NASA, takes the USHCN data set and somehow uses nearby stations to correct for anomalous stations.  I say somehow, because, incredibly, these government scientists, whose research is funded by taxpayers and is being used to make major policy decisions, refuse to release their algorithms or methodology details publicly.  They keep it all secret!  Their adjustments are a big black box that none of us are allowed to look into  (and remember, these adjustments account for the vast majority of reported warming in the last century).

We can, however, reverse engineer some of these adjustments, and McIntyre does.  What he finds is that the GISS appears to be averaging the good and bad compass, rather than throwing out or adjusting only the biased reading.  You can see this below.  First, here are the USHCN data for these two stations with only the Time of Observation adjustment made (more on what these adjustments are in this article).
Grand_12

As I said above, no real surprise - little warming out in undeveloped nature, lots of warming in a large and rapidly growing modern city.  Now, here is the same data after the GISS has adjusted it:

Grand_15

You can see that Tucson has been adjusted down a degree or two, but Grand Canyon has been adjusted up a degree or two (with the earlier mid-century spike adjusted down).  OK, so it makes sense that Tucson has been adjusted down, though there is a very good argument to be made that it should be been adjusted down more, say by at least 3 degrees**.  But why does the Grand Canyon need to be adjusted up by about a degree and a half?  What is biasing it colder by 1.5 degrees, which is a lot?  The answer:  Nothing.  The explanation:  Obviously, the GISS is doing some sort of averaging, which is bringing the Grand Canyon and Tucson from each end closer to a mean. 

This is clearly wrong, like averaging the two compasses.  You don't average a measurement known to be of good quality with one known to be biased.  The Grand Canyon should be held about the same, and Tucson adjusted down even more toward it, or else thrown out.  Lets look at two cases.  In one, we will use the GISS approach to combine these two stations-- this adds 1.5 degrees to GC and subtracts 1.5 degrees from Tucson.  In the second, we will take an approach that applies all the adjustment to just the biases (Tucson station) -- this would add 0 degrees to GC and subtract 3 degrees from Tucson.  The first approach, used by the GISS, results in a mean warming in these two stations that is 1.5 degrees higher than the more logical second approach.  No wonder the GISS produces the highest historical global warming estimates of any source!  Steve McIntyre has much more.

** I got to three degrees by applying all of the adjustments for GC and Tucson to Tucson.  Here is another way to get to about this amount.   We know from studies that urban heat islands can add 8-10 degrees to nighttime urban temperatures over surrounding undeveloped land.  Assuming no daytime effect, which is conservative, we might conclude that 8-10 degrees at night adds about 3 degrees to the entire 24-hour average.

Postscript: Steve McIntyre comments (bold added):

These adjustments are supposed to adjust for station moves - the
procedure is described in Karl and Williams 1988 [check], but, like so
many climate recipes, is a complicated statistical procedure that is
not based on statistical procedures known off the island.
(That's not
to say that the procedures are necessarily wrong, just that the
properties of the procedure are not known to statistical civilization.
)
When I see this particular outcome of the Karl methodology, my
impression is that, net of the pea moving under the thimble, the Grand
Canyon values are being blended up and the Tucson values are being
blended down. So that while the methodology purports to adjust for
station moves, I'm not convinced that the methodology can successfully
estimate ex post the impact of numerous station moves and my guess is
that it ends up constructing a kind of blended average.

LOL.  McIntyre, by the way, is the same gentleman who helped call foul on the Mann hockey stick for bad statistical procedure.

More Subsidy Insanity

Over a decade ago, the German government adopted the goal of reducing the country's CO2 emissions back to 1990 levels as part of the Kyoto process.  That's why its incredible to me that after spending billions on various goofy and questionable conservation and alternative energy programs, someone has finally thought to maybe stop massively subsidizing coal production.

For decades, German lawmakers have propped up the industry,
unwilling to risk massive layoffs and reluctant to eliminate a reliable
energy source as gas and oil supplies become scarcer.

But after spending more than $200 billion in subsidies since the
1960s, the federal government this year decided that the practice had
become unaffordable. The 2018 sunset for the hard-coal industry was set.

Economists and free-market lawmakers have long decried the subsidies
as handouts to the politically influential coal industry and powerful
trade unions. This year, for instance, Deutsche Steinkohle AG, the
owner of the remaining eight mines, will receive more in government
subsidies ($3.3 billion) than it will from selling coal ($2.9 billion).

With just 32,000 miners left, that's the equivalent of more than $100,000 in annual subsidies per worker.

I don't know what is more incredible -- $100,000 per worker or the fact that subsidies actually are larger than revenue from coal sales.  In effect, the government is subsidizing more than half of coal's production costs.

Sometimes we in the US forget just how insane the economy in Europe can be.  I remember doing a consulting project for the French national railroad, the SNCF.   It turned out the SNCF, for it's 100,000 freight cars had ... 125,000 freight car maintenance workers.  The headcount number was so insane I had to check it three times to make sure it was right.  I commented at the time that they could assign one car repair worker full time to each freight car, and have him ride around with that car full time, and still cut staffing by 20%.

Ex Post Facto Guilt

You gotta love those vaunted MSM fact-checkers.  I mean, I am all for criticizing George Bush, but this seems to be going a bit too far  (Guardian via Q&O):

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to
pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the
agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in
Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to
hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including
Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on
condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely.
The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence
and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees
to places where they may be tortured.

The report criticises the Bush administration's approval of practices
which would be illegal if carried out by British agents. It shows that
in 1998, the year Bin Laden was indicted in the US, Britain insisted
that the policy of treating prisoners humanely should include him. But
the CIA never gave the assurances.

LOL.  It seems like Bush has been president forever, but I am pretty sure that Hillary's husband was in the White House until early 2001.

The Highest Paid Public Employees

Phil Miller observes that the new Hawkeye football coach is now the highest-paid government employee in Iowa.  This is wildly unsurprising.  In fact, I renew my question that we never got a final answer on:  Is there any state in which a college athletics coach is NOT the highest paid public employee in the state?

Update:  Tim, who has a blog at Movementarian.com writes with lots more thoughts:

Being from Texas I tried to find some numbers on your question:
- David Lopez, chief executive of the Harris County Hospital
District, has agreed to a three-year deal that could pay him $500,000
annually and would make him the highest-paid county employee.    (

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4986829.html)

 
- Already, the retirement system's chief investment officer, Britt
Harris, is the highest-paid state employee (excluding higher-education
officials and athletic coaches, whose pay isn't tracked by the
comptroller's office). Harris earns a base salary of $480,000 and is
eligible for a maximum bonus of $360,000.  (
http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/finance/entries/2007/06/15/bonus_babies_part_i_1.html
)
Other State's
Nevada: Public employees who repair Nevada's local streets and
highways, operate its city and county jails and fill nonteaching jobs
in its school districts are the best paid in the country when compared
with their counterparts in the other 49 states and the District of
Columbia, according to U.S. Census figures for 2001.  (http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2003/May-18-Sun-2003/news/21349243.html)
 
New York: Alain Kaloyeros, vice president and chief administrative
officer at the College of Nanoscale science and Engineering and an
expert in the field of nanotechnology, became the highest paid employee
after the State University of New York (SUNY) chancellor approved a
$142,000 per year raise, bringing his annual salary to $666,995, the
Associated Press reports. (
http://compensation.blr.com/display.cfm/id/155584)
However, based on football coaches in Texas alone (most of whom
make more than $1 mil), none of these other employees come close (just
as you predicted).  Even college basketball coaches are making alot of
money now.  In fact, before A&M's Gillespie bolted to Kentucky, he
was offered $1.75 million a year, up from $500k: (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/news/story?id=2832406) -- his replacement, Mark Turgeon, signed a deal worth $1.2 million/year.
 
 
Note: this is one of the better articles covering this issue: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2006-11-16-coaches-salaries-cover_x.htm
 
Regarding the Nevada example above, UN basketball coach is raking in more dough than any of those employees as well: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/news/story?id=2912916
 
And for the record, I think the coaches that get a cut of ticket
revenues are in a conflict of interest, due to the fact that more than
90% of Div I schools fund athletics departments through student fees (

http://www.mises.org/story/2233#fn6)

and their sport typically get a large amount of promotion through
by the institution.  Then again, the entire collegiate enterprise is
backwards to begin with...

The State and Local Government Meltdown

I have written before that the government story of the next decade will be the financial meltdown that will ensue as state and local governments are forced to face up to the enormous unfunded pension and medical liabilities they have assumed for their state employees.  Largely, these liabilities are currently well-hidden and off the books, a trick even Jeff Skilling was unable to pull off at Enron. 

My previous prediction that the liabilities probably total over a trillion dollars now seems way low.  Just one state, Illinois, may have over $100 billion in such off-the-books liabilities, and this does not even include liabilities of local authorities like the city of Chicago:

The study puts the state's pension debt at $10 billion, its unfunded
pension costs at $46 billion, its unfunded employee health care costs
at $48 billion, and its unpaid Medicaid bills at $2 billion. The total
costs that will be pushed onto tomorrow's taxpayers without reforms is
an enormous $106 billion, or $8,800 per every person in the state of
Illinois.

Government Relevance

At the exact same time that the President and the Congress have the lowest approval ratings of all time, consumer confidence just hit a 6-year high.  While we all understand the power of the government to screw up the economy, has there ever been quite so eloquent an expression of just how irrelevant the government is to economic expansion?

Government Health Care and Efficiency

I am always absolutely amazed when advocates of some form of national or single-payer health care argue that such a system would be more efficient.  For example, Kevin Drum argued:

A few days ago, during an email exchange with a
friend, I mentioned that I don't usually tout cost savings as a big
argument in favor of universal healthcare. It's true that a national
healthcare plan would almost certainly save money compared to our
current Rube Goldberg system, but I suspect the savings would be
modest. Rather, the real advantages of national healthcare are related
to things like access (getting everyone covered), efficiency (cutting down on useless -- or even deliberately counterproductive -- administrative bureaucracies), choice
(allowing people to choose and keep a family doctor instead of being
jerked around everytime their employer decides to switch health
providers), and social justice (providing decent, hassle-free healthcare for the poor).

I don't think any of these are true.  For example, let's take access.  Yes, everyone in a universal health care system would have a piece of paper that says they have health care, and the left seems really focused on that piece of paper.  But that paper has about as much value as my piece of paper that says I own a hundred shares of Enron.  Because someone has to redeem that piece of paper and actually provide the care, and there is the rub, is it not?  Canadian David Gratzer writes (vis Q&O):

My book's thesis was simple: to contain rising
costs, government-run health-care systems invariably restrict the
health-care supply. Thus, at a time when Canada's population was aging
and needed more care, not less, cost-crunching bureaucrats had reduced
the size of medical school classes, shuttered hospitals, and capped
physician fees, resulting in hundreds of thousands of patients waiting
for needed treatment"”patients who suffered and, in some cases, died
from the delays....

Nor were the problems I identified unique to
Canada"”they characterized all government-run health-care systems.
Consider the recent British controversy over a cancer patient who tried
to get an appointment with a specialist, only to have it canceled"”48
times. More than 1 million Britons must wait for some type of care,
with 200,000 in line for longer than six months. A while back, I toured
a public hospital in Washington, D.C., with Tim Evans, a senior fellow
at the Centre for the New Europe. The hospital was dark and dingy, but
Evans observed that it was cleaner than anything in his native England.
In France, the supply of doctors is so limited that during an August
2003 heat wave"”when many doctors were on vacation and hospitals were
stretched beyond capacity"”15,000 elderly citizens died. Across Europe,
state-of-the-art drugs aren't available. And so on.

I had forgotten about the heat wave.  Could you imagine backwards old America having 15,000 people die when the temperature got into the 90's?

As to efficiency, which Drum defines as "cutting down on useless -- or even deliberately counterproductive -- administrative bureaucracies," does anyone really ascribe these characteristics to the government?  Really?  Even European health care bureaucrats would not agree with this statement:

This privatizing trend is reaching Europe, too.
Britain's government-run health care dates back to the 1940s. Yet the
Labour Party"”which originally created the National Health Service and
used to bristle at the suggestion of private medicine, dismissing it as
"Americanization""”now openly favors privatization. Sir William Wells, a
senior British health official, recently said: "The big trouble with a
state monopoly is that it builds in massive inefficiencies and
inward-looking culture."

I won't get much into the last two, except to say that we actually have a ton of health care choice in the US today, far more than any other country.  And even if we did not, what does doctor choice mean if the best people are driven away from being doctors, as they are in socialized medicine.  And social justice?  Well, the poor get care in the US, the key is the "hassle-free" in his statement.  Would you immediately assume that a government-run service is going to involve less hassle than a private service?  Have you renewed your drivers license lately?  It may well be that the poorest 10% have such an awful health care experience that they will see things better.  But almost assuredly the other 90% are going to be worse off.

Remember this -- Universal health care is NOT a system in which the majority of us who are satisfied with our care can keep our current system, while the poor get a better one.  It is a system where all of us are thrown out of our current system and given the same care the poor get.  It is roughly equivalent to a Great Society housing program in which not just the homeless get housing, but everyone in the country are forced to give up their current house and live in public housing.

Postscript:  There is great improvement to be had in the health care system.  It revolves, though, around making the payer for health care the same person who receives the service, as it is for every other product and service we buy in this country.  We already have too much single-payer.  We need multi-payer.  I won't go there today, but I explained here.

Another Thought:
A huge pillar of the women's movement was that the government should not make decisions for a woman and her body (e.g. by banning abortion).   All well and good.  But I have never understood how this was consistent with support, say, for the FDA, which tells women exactly what they can and can't put in their body.  And now women's groups are all for universal health care, where government will make all the medical decisions about what procedures one can and can't have, and when.  Consistency please?

Apparently Chelsea Clinton and I Have Something in Common

Apparently Chelsea Clinton will start work soon as a McKinsey associate.  However, she doesn't seem to have had to solve eight or ten business case studies in real-time during interviews as I had to, nor am I guessing that she will spend her first year working 80-hour weeks buried in spreadsheets and charts.  As a aside, the first partner I worked with at McKinsey was Jeff Skilling, of Enron fame, one of the brightest people I ever worked with.

An Interesting Source of Man-Made Global Warming

The US Historical Climate Network (USHCN) reports about a 0.6C temperature increase in the lower 48 states since about 1940.  There are two steps to reporting these historic temperature numbers.  First, actual measurements are taken.  Second, adjustments are made after the fact by scientists to the data.  Would you like to guess how much of the 0.6C temperature rise is from actual measured temperature increases and how much is due to adjustments of various levels of arbitrariness?  Here it is, for the period from 1940 to present in the US:

Actual Measured Temperature Increase: 0.1C
Adjustments and Fudge Factors: 0.5C
Total Reported Warming: 0.6C

Yes, that is correct.  Nearly all the reported warming in the USHCN data base, which is used for nearly all global warming studies and models, is from human-added fudge factors, guesstimates, and corrections.

I know what you are thinking - this is some weird skeptic's urban legend.  Well, actually it comes right from the NOAA web page which describes how they maintain the USHCN data set.  Below is the key chart from that site showing the sum of all the plug factors and corrections they add to the raw USHCN measurements:
Ushcn_corrections
I hope you can see this significance.  Before we get into whether these measurements are right or wrong or accurate or guesses, it is very useful to understand that almost all the reported warming in the US over the last 70 years is attributable to the plug figures and corrections a few government scientists add to the data in the back room.  It kind of reduces one's confidence, does it not, in the basic conclusion about catastrophic warming? 

Anyway, lets look at the specific adjustments.  The lines in the chart below should add to the overall adjustment line in the chart above.
Ushcn_corrections2

  • Black line is a time of observation adjustment, adding about 0.3C since 1940
  • Light Blue line is a missing data adjustment that does not affect the data much since 1940
  • Red line is an adjustment for measurement technologies, adding about 0.05C since 1940
  • Yellow line is station location quality adjustment, adding about 0.2C since 1940
  • Purple line is an urban heat island adjustment, subtracting about 0.05C since 1950.

Let's take each of these in turn.  The time of observation adjustment is defined as follows:

The Time of Observation Bias (TOB) arises when the 24-hour daily
summary period at a station begins and ends at an hour other than local
midnight. When the summary period ends at an hour other than midnight,
monthly mean temperatures exhibit a systematic bias relative to the
local midnight standard

0.3C seems absurdly high for this adjustment, but I can't prove it.  However, if I understand the problem, a month might be picking up a few extra hours from the next month and losing a few hours to the previous month.  How is a few hour time shift really biasing a 720+ hour month by so large a number? I will look to see if I can find a study digging into this. 

I will skip over the missing data and measurement technology adjustments, since they are small.

The other two adjustments are fascinating.  The yellow line says that siting has improved on USHCN sites such that, since 1900, their locations average 0.2C cooler due to being near more grass and less asphalt today than in 1900. 

During this time, many sites were relocated from city locations to
airports and from roof tops to grassy areas. This often resulted in
cooler readings than were observed at the previous sites.

OK, without a bit of data, does that make a lick of sense?  Siting today in our modern world has GOT to be worse than it was in 1900 or even 1940.  In particular, the very short cable length of the newer MMTS sensors that are standard for USHCN temperature measurement guarantee that readings today are going to be close to buildings and paving.  Now, go to SurfaceStations.org and look at pictures of actual installations, or look at the couple of installations in the Phoenix area I have taken pictures of here.  Do these look more grassy and natural than measurement sites were likely to be in 1900?  Or go to Anthony Watts blog and scroll down his posts on horrible USHCN sites.

The fact is that not only is NOAA getting this correction wrong, but it probably has the SIGN wrong.  The NOAA has never conducted the site by site survey that we discussed above.  Their statement that locations are improving is basically a leap of faith, rather than a fact-based conclusion.  In fact, NOAA scientists who believe that global warming is a problem tend to overlay this bias on the correction process.  Note the quote above -- temperatures that don't increase as they expect are treated as an error to be corrected, rather than a measurement that disputes their hypothesis.

Finally, lets look the urban heat island adjustment.  The NOAA is claiming that the sum total of urban heat island effects on its network since 1900 is just 0.1C, and less than 0.05C since 1940.  We're are talking about the difference between a rural America with horses and dirt roads and a modern urban society with asphalt and air conditioning and cars.  This rediculously small adjustment reflects two biases among anthropogenic global warming advocates:  1)  That urban heat island effects are negligible and 2) That the USHCN network is all rural.  Both are absurd.  Study after study has show urban heat island effects as high as 6-10 degrees.  Just watch you local news if you live in a city --  you will see actual temperatures and forecasts lower by several degrees in the outlying areas than in the center of town.  As to the locations all being rural, you just have to go to surfacestations.org and see where these stations are.  Many of these sites might have been rural in 1940, but they have been engulfed by cities and towns since.

To illustrate both these points, lets take the case of the Tucson site I visited.  In 1900, Tucson was a dusty one-horse town (Arizona was not even a state yet).  In 1940, it was still pretty small.  Today, it is a city of over one million people and the USHCN station is dead in the center of town, located right on an asphalt parking lot.  The adjustment NOAA makes for all these changes?  Less than one degree.  I don't think this is fraud, but it is willful blindness.

So, let's play around with numbers.  Let's say that instead of a 0.2C site quality adjustment we instead used a -0.1C adjustment, which is still probably generous.  Let's assume that instead of a -0.05C urban adjustment we instead used -0.2C.  The resulting total adjustment from 1940 to date would be +0.05 and the total measurement temperature increase in the US would fall from 0.6C to 0.15C.  And this is without even changing the very large time of observation adjustment, and is using some pretty conservative assumptions on my part.  Wow!  This would put US warming more in the range of what satellite data would imply, and would make it virtually negligible. It means that the full amount of reported US warming may well be within the error bars for the measurement network and the correction factors.

While anthropogenic global warming enthusiasts are quick to analyze the reliability of any temperature measurement that shows lower global warming numbers (e.g. satellite), they have historically resisted calls to face up to the poor quality of surface temperature measurement and the arbitrariness of current surface temperature correction factors.  As the NOAA tellingly states:

The U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN, Karl et al. 1990)
is a high-quality moderate sized data set of monthly averaged maximum,
minimum, and mean temperature and total monthly precipitation developed
to assist in the detection of regional climate change. The USHCN is
comprised of 1221 high-quality stations from the U.S. Cooperative
Observing Network within the 48 contiguous United States.

Does it sound defensive to anyone else when they use "high-quality" in both of the first two sentences?  Does anyone think this is high qualityOr this?  Or this?  Its time to better understand what this network as well as its limitations.

My 60-second climate skepticism argument is here.  The much longer paper explaining the breath of skeptic's issues with catastrophic man-made global warming is available for free here.

PS- This analysis focuses only on the US.  However, is there anyone out there who thinks that measurement in China and India and Russia and Africa is less bad?

UpdateThis pdf has an overview of urban heat islands, including this analysis showing the magnitude of the Phoenix nighttime UHI as well as the fact that this UHI has grown substantially over the last 30 years.

Uhi1

Update2: Steve McIntyre looks at temperature adjustments for a couple of California Stations.  In one case he finds a station that has not moves for over one hundred years getting an adjustment that implies a urban heat island reduction over the past 100 years.

Oddities at Coyote Blog

You may see some odd things happening with the post sorting on the blog tonight, as I am futzing around with them to facilitate some dead-tree archiving.  More on what I am doing here.

Did the Chinese Discover America?

Cool map and historic speculation of whether the Chinese explored America circa 1421.  The map, which is a later copy of a purported 15th century map, may be a little too accurate for credibility, particularly on the Atlantic side.

Tautology (and Thoughts on Ward Churchill)

Todd Zywicki notes that Congress "has been on a binge diet of junk social science."  Is there another kind of social science?  Particularly in the media, I really think the main influence of social science has been to substantially lower the bar for scientific inquiry and skepticism thereof.

Update: On a related note, these really low academic standards in the social "sciences" are the reason I think firing Ward Churchill is bogus, as I wrote here.  Academic standards for things like ethnic or gender studies are incredibly low, particularly for the "research" done in these departments.  As I pointed out before, Cal State Long Beach, for example, hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  It is almost impossible to imagine Ward Churchill fired for violating the academic standards of his discipline because his discipline tends to have none, and everyone knows it.  The University of Colorado fully knew what it was getting with Ward Churchill, but they hired him to check a politically correct racial/gender/ethnic box.  Everything UC supposedly fired him for were known to them or should have been known to them with the most minimal of due diligence when they tenured the guy.  Nothing has changed, except that he is no longer a PR asset for the university.  As I wrote previously:

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.

Even More:  Background from KC Johnson:

Churchill was hired through a "special opportunity" position, designed
by the university to help "recruit and hire a more diverse faculty." He
had an M.A. from little-known Sangamon State University and no Ph.D at
all. As documents from the time noted, his qualifications included only two items: strong lobbying from Evelyn Hu-DeHart,
the chair of the Ethnic Studies program, and the now-disputed fact that
"Ward is a Native American," meaning his hire would contribute "to
increasing the cultural diversity on campus."...

How, then, could his fellow academics have originally found Churchill's
scholarship acceptable? The outcome, alas, suggests that in politicized
fields such as African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and Ethnic
Studies, the message too often trumps quality. In this case, it appears
that Churchill's extremist arguments that the U.S. government engaged
in genocide against Native Americans blinded his academic reviewers to
the poor quality of his scholarship. Indeed, some Churchill
sympathizers, led by Cornell professor Eric Cheyfitz,
have continued to maintain that the former professor's writings
constitute appropriate scholarship for the field of Ethnic Studies.

I contend that Churchill was and is still exactly what UC thought he was, and his scholarship was and still does exactly conform to the (miserably low) standards of his discipline.

Market Manipulation...For Eight Minutes

A while back, I wrote of my conversation with a friend who was convinced that oil prices are set by a small cabal of traders, and that while they have been at $60-70 over the last several years, they would have been at $40 or less without the traders manipulating the price.  I won't go into my arguments again here, but I wrote that it would be virtually impossible to maintain a price artificially above the market clearing price for so long without 1) massive product gluts or 2) almost-impossible-to-hide widespread suppression of production involving thousands of parties.

Michael Giberson at the Knowledge Problem writes about a price-fixing case by natural gas traders.  Amaranth is accused of manipulating gas prices, and I won't judge their guilt or innocence.  But, apropos of my statement above, it is interesting to note that the key question is whether it was possible for the company to manipulate commodity prices for eight minutes.  It looks as if they tried it, but it also looks as if they were not successful (since the government is charging they attempted to manipulate the market, but is not trying to prove they succeeded in doing so).  Making it hugely absurd to think that anyone could do it for three or four years.

Avoiding Bad Precedents

I just finished a course on the history of Rome.  The most fascinating era was the Roman revolution, where over about 100 years Rome slid from a Republic to an autocracy.  The final phases of the era, with the Caesars, gets a lot of play in movies and such, but it is actually the early period I found the most interesting.  In effect, Caesar or someone like him was effectively inevitable by that point in time.  The chance to avoid such an outcome actually came a hundred years earlier.

I won't get into the whole history, but suffice it to say that there was a major difference in the Republic between the theoretical power of certain offices and the actual power.  In effect, certain offices could theoretically take some pretty radical actions, but they were circumscribed by tradition and precedent.  However, when these precedents were broken (interestingly by a man who felt he was doing it for a good cause) restraints were removed and politics tended to devolve.

A while back, I wrote a post saying that I would love to see impeachment hearings in the Senate, because it would prevent the Senate from getting anything else done and it would be enormously entertaining. 

I take it back.  Having thought some more about it, I now think that it would be a really bad idea.   Impeachment has always been a power that could be used any time, but was not because the Congress generally recognized that restraint was in order.  The impeachment of Clinton broke with this tradition.  Yes, I know, he lied under oath.  Fine, yank his law license after he leaves office.  Yes, it probably was technically an impeachable offense.  But it falls way, way short of the line that historic precedent has set for when impeachment is appropriate.  And by greatly lowering this line, the Republican Congress took the huge risk of opening the floodgates to impeachment hearings virtually every time the President and Congressional majorities were from opposite parties.

I really would like to see the Democrats exercise restraint here.  I know many libertarians disagree with me, and would love nothing more than to see more frequent impeachments and recalls;  unfortunately, I just don't think that solves the libertarian problem of reducing the power and scope of government.

I don't want to misinterpret Kevin Drum, but he seems to be making a similar plea.  To M.J. Rosenburg, who argues:

The Constitutional remedy of impeachment is no longer
what it once was. For better or worse, the Republicans changed it, for
all time, when they impeached Clinton over, essentially, nothing.

And Clinton changed it as well. Impeachment not only did not end his
Presidency; it did not hurt his standing with the public. His numbers
stayed high, even improved some, and he left office on schedule, a very
popular President.

In other words, impeachment is no longer the political nuclear bomb
it once was, especially if one knows in advance that conviction and
removal from office is unlikely to occur.

Accordingly, impeachment proceedings are essentially the best means
of getting information to the public which is otherwise unavailable.

To this Drum says:

Impeachment should become a routine tool for getting public attention
whenever we disagree with a president of the opposite party? This might
be the worst argument in favor of impeachment of all time.

I agree.  I think Rosenburg is right that the Clinton impeachment changed the precedents around impeachment, but I would like to see the cork put back in the bottle now, before it is too late.

Air Conditioning Is Causing Global Warming

Yep, I admit it, air conditioning may indeed be causing us to measure higher temperatures.  Here is the historic temperature plot of Detroit Lake, MN, one of the thousand or so measurement points in the data base that is used to compute historical warming in the US.
Detroit_lakes_gissplot

Look at that jump in the last 10 years.  It must be global warming!  Can't possibly be due to these air conditioning units installed around 2000 and venting hot gas on the temperature instrument (in that round louvered thing on the post).
Detroit_lakes_ushcn_2

More from Anthony Watts, who is leading the effort to document all these stations. You too can help.  The odds are you live less than an hour from one of these stations -- take your camera and add it to the data base.  Its fun!

Incredibly, the global warming community still argues that documenting the quality of the installations used in the official global warming numbers is unnecessary.  More air conditioners blowing on official temperature measurements hereWorst temperature installation found to date here, "coincidently" at the site with the highest measured 20th century warming.

Environmentalism and the Division of Labor

Opposition to the world-wide division of labor, which creates so much wealth, is not new.  Ghandi, for example, was a strong proponent of maintaining home-based weaving and manufacturing in a wrong-headed defense of individual "self-sufficiency" against the rising tide of division of labor.  It was a philosophy that would keep Indians poor for another several generations, until they finally began entering the modern economy.  Anti-Globalization advocates, famous for trying to destroy downtown Seattle, have also tried to halt the global division of labor.

Most recently, reversing the global division of labor has become an environmental cause, with buy-local movements springing up all over.  Of course, the success of these efforts would be the express train to poverty -- there is a reason we don't manufacture clothing in every county in America, and it is demonstrated in part by this mess.

The argument these buy-local advocates use is that the global cross-transportation of goods is creating environmental problems, including more CO2.  They also argue that keeping production close to consumers would cause consumers to bear whatever environmental costs there are in manufacturing.  These arguments are absurd.  This might be true, if everything else were held constant, most particularly manufacturing efficiency (but probably not even then).  But of course these other elements would not be held constant.  The efficiency losses from loss of scale alone would dwarf savings in manufacturing costs.  And much of transportation costs are incurred moving extractive resources (eg coal, iron) and these transport costs would only go up if manufacturing destinations were more dispersed.  And all of this is without even discussing division of labor.

Today I saw a story about trash that really hammered home this point:

Contrary to current wisdom, packaging can reduce total rubbish produced. The average household in the United States generates one third
less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico,
partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste. Turning a live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products
(such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products.

When you push animal-slaughter down to the household level, there is a huge loss in efficiency and increase in environmental impact.  Note how industrial farming, a huge bete noir of modern environmentalists, greatly improves recycling and reduces waste.  Yes, industrial farming seems to have a large environmental impact, but that is in many cases just because it is all in one place and visible.  Blowing these operations up does not reduce the damage, it just spreads it around and makes it less visible.  This kind of narrow-focus static analysis has become fairly typical of today's environmentalists.

Environmentalism and the Division of Labor

Opposition to the world-wide division of labor, which creates so much wealth, is not new.  Ghandi, for example, was a strong proponent of maintaining home-based weaving and manufacturing in a wrong-headed defense of individual "self-sufficiency" against the rising tide of division of labor.  It was a philosophy that would keep Indians poor for another several generations, until they finally began entering the modern economy.  Anti-Globalization advocates, famous for trying to destroy downtown Seattle, have also tried to halt the global division of labor.

Most recently, reversing the global division of labor has become an environmental cause, with buy-local movements springing up all over.  Of course, the success of these efforts would be the express train to poverty -- there is a reason we don't manufacture clothing in every county in America, and it is demonstrated in part by this mess.

The argument these buy-local advocates use is that the global cross-transportation of goods is creating environmental problems, including more CO2.  They also argue that keeping production close to consumers would cause consumers to bear whatever environmental costs there are in manufacturing.  These arguments are absurd.  This might be true, if everything else were held constant, most particularly manufacturing efficiency (but probably not even then).  But of course these other elements would not be held constant.  The efficiency losses from loss of scale alone would dwarf savings in manufacturing costs.  And much of transportation costs are incurred moving extractive resources (eg coal, iron) and these transport costs would only go up if manufacturing destinations were more dispersed.  And all of this is without even discussing division of labor.

Today I saw a story about trash that really hammered home this point:

Contrary to current wisdom, packaging can reduce total rubbish produced. The average household in the United States generates one third
less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico,
partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste. Turning a live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products
(such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products.

When you push animal-slaughter down to the household level, there is a huge loss in efficiency and increase in environmental impact.  Note how industrial farming, a huge bete noir of modern environmentalists, greatly improves recycling and reduces waste.  Yes, industrial farming seems to have a large environmental impact, but that is in many cases just because it is all in one place and visible.  Blowing these operations up does not reduce the damage, it just spreads it around and makes it less visible.  This kind of narrow-focus static analysis has become fairly typical of today's environmentalists.

Fighting Fire with Fire

So I guess the Democratic response to the Bush administration's 8-years of disrespect for the separation of powers is to one-up him?

On the op-ed page of the New York Times,
Jean Edward Smith argues that if the Roberts Court keeps on its current
path, a future Democratic President and Democratic Congress should
consider a court-packing plan and add Justices to ensure a liberal
majority on the Supreme Court. This might be necessary, Smith contends,
because the Roberts Court has "adopt[ed] a manifestly ideological
agenda," "plung[ing] the court into the vortex of American politics"
where it now decides political questions rather than the purely legal
decisions of the Warren Court.

And by the way, I would have said that the Roberts court has followed a distinctly non-ideological agenda.  In fact, I can't figure out how they are making decisions from one case to the next.  This court bears the hallmarks of one that is really evenly divided, with backroom negotiating going on to get a majority that reeks of compromise rather than anything either ideological or Constitutional.  Every major decision seems to have five or six written opinions.

Those Dirty Nasty Steam Plumes

Don Surber writes:

The tax-exempt Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C.,
issued its annual list of the 50 dirtiest power plants in America. This
is illustrated by a photo showing steam "” water vapor "” escaping from a
cooling tower. Sigh.

I made this same point long ago, laughing at the huge number of air pollution reports that are illustrated with pictures of steam plumes.  I also showed how photographers seemed to try to photograph the steam plumes at sunset, trying to turn them brown-looking to make it look like pollution.  Unfortunately for pollution-report illustrators, power plants have been cleaned up enough that they don't really emit visible smoke plumes any more.

Ap6

New Orleans, Progressive Paradise

From the USA Today:

In working-class areas here, homes for sale
have begun to move briskly. But in the ritzy Uptown district and other
well-to-do neighborhoods, the picture is bleaker. "New Price" and
"Reduced" signs adjoin grand Victorian homes "” symbols of a struggling
upscale housing market.

They're the lingering effects of Hurricane
Katrina. In coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, a glut of higher-end
homes points to soaring property insurance costs that are pricing many
people out of the market. It also speaks to the legions of doctors and
other professionals who have left the area and have yet to return. The
price of their exodus could be severe: Economic development experts
warn that if these professionals stay away en masse, it could cripple
the region's recovery.

For anyone with a stake in the region's recovery, the loss of
higher-income residents "” and their job skills "” is alarming. The
problem is compounded by the shortage of upper-income buyers willing to
put down stakes to replace those who have left.

So what is the problem?  I thought this would make New Orleans a progressive paradise.  No rich to get richer and create envy in the working classes.  No issues with income distribution.  Just a worker's paradise with no capitalist oppressors.  Huge portions of the populations dependent on the government and refusing to rebuild until they get government handouts to do so.  This sounds like everything Progressives are working for.  But...

Doctors, bankers and other professionals are "the backbone of the
community," says William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings
Institution, a Washington think tank. "They're the people who will help
the tax base. If they leave, they are going to be very hard to replace."

Oh, I see.  We don't really want them around, but we need milch cows we can tax so we can have handouts for everyone else.  It must be a hard tightrope for progressives to walk -- they hate rich people but need them to pay for their schemes.

Reputation with Whom?

Eliot Spitzer has been caught using the power of his office to go after his enemies.  Wow, what a surprise.  Frequent readers of this blog will know I don't think much of Spitzer, who tended to overreach his office all the way back to student government at Princeton.  What I found surprising, though, was this quote from the NY Times:

The report was a blow to Mr. Spitzer, a former prosecutor who came into
office less than seven months ago with a reputation for integrity and
who promised to bring a new ethical climate to Albany.

A reputation for integrity with whom?  Mr. Spitzer, as attorney general, was a sort of liberal bookend to George W. Bush, consistently exceeding the limits of his authority to achieve some goal he argued trumped a narrow reading of the law.  His supporters, just as Bush's do, justify his overreaching his office on the grounds that the ends justified the means, in Spitzer's case the assault on various corporate and Wall Street firms liberals were frustrated that Washington would not pursue.  Critics like myself argued that many of his crusades were abuses of his prosecutorial office to pursue personal vendetta's and to generate headlines to position himself for a run for governor.

I would think that any reasonable definition of "integrity" when applied to an attorney general would include a respect for the letter of the law, something that even his supporters would probably admit Spitzer cast aside when he thought it was for a good cause.  The only interpretation of "integrity" I can come up with in the context of this article is that Spitzer had integrity in the past because his abuses of power were in pursuit of causes the author agreed with.

Look, this is the man that began supporting campaign finance limitations, which tend to support incumbents, starting the day after he became an incumbent.  This is the man who described himself as governor thus:  "I
am a fucking steamroller and I'll roll over you or anybody else
".  This is the man who involved the State of New York and the courts in a private compensation deal, just to burnish his populist credentials.  In the latter trial, he explicitly left prominent Democrats who had the most involvement with the deal alone and indicted side figures who were Republicans.  Tom Kirkendall has a much longer bill of particulars against Spitzer here.

Phoenix Envy

Today I read one of the most bizarre articles I have read in quite a long time.  Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star (HT: Junk Science) seems to have developed a fantasy that climate change will drive people out of Arizona and back to Cleveland, Buffalo and Toronto.  Uh, yeah.  The article is laden with shoddy science, gross contradictions, bad economics, and a recurrent envy of wealth and success.  The article is so much of a mess that I just can't resist fisking it in detail, despite its length. 

Before I begin, though, I am not necessarily a huge Arizona booster.  Phoenix works pretty well for me at this point in my life, but I have lived in many great places.  And I am the last one to criticize anyone who decides that they just can't live in a place where it is 110F for 6 weeks straight.  That being said, lets get into it.  The article is titled: 

Climate Change Herald Mass Migration:  Concerns
raised as the U. S. Southwest grapples with historic drought, water
supply depletion and the creeping sense that things can only get worse.

We will get into all this later, but you gotta love the "creeping sense that things can only get worse."  Who has this sense, other than the author?  Phoenix is one of the most optimistic and positive places I have ever lived.

The state of Arizona has more than 300 golf courses, a booming economy,
endless sunshine and, at last count, at least five Saks Fifth Avenue
department stores "” in short, nearly everything the well-heeled
sybarite would need.

He sets the tone right up front.  This article is not about climate or rain or anything else.  It is about envy and a distaste for other people's wealth and success.

There's just one thing missing: rain.

For the past
month, not a drop has fallen in Maricopa County, home to greater
Phoenix, the state's economic engine and fastest-growing hub. Over that
period, temperatures have hovered five to seven degrees above the
30-year average, at one point holding steady at over 43C for 10
straight days, while hundreds of brush fires burned statewide.

Its the freaking Sonoran desert!  We go months without rain.  We are supposed to go months without rain.  We average like 8 inches a year.  This county went months at a time without rain long before human beings burned their first molecule of fossil fuels.  If we got much more rain than this, all of our Saguaro cactuses would die.

And 43c is 109F.  We almost always go 4-6 weeks with temperatures over 109.  And he is saying this is 6C (10F) more than normal.  Get real!  I can't remember any June or July we ever went even 5 straight days under 100F during this part of the summer. By the way, Arizona's highest June temperature was recorded in 1994, its highest July temperature in 1905, and its highest August temperature in 1933. So much for record highs of late. (Maybe one reason it seems to be getting hotter is that they are measuring the temperature of asphalt parking lots).

"And they're still building billion-dollar houses, right in the
middle of the desert," says Paul Oyashi, incredulous. "It doesn't seem
rational, does it?"

Holy Crap!  Billion dollar houses!  Our retractable roof football stadium didn't cost a billion dollars, Canadian or US.  Oh, and you see that having gone 4 paragraphs without being snide about wealth, he needed to get back to this topic.  And who the $%@!! is Paul Oyashi?

In a word, no. Rational, some would say,
would be a mass migration from the drought-ravaged American southwest,
where Southern California just experienced its driest 12-month period
in recorded history, to more verdant climes.

One such place?
Cleveland, the battered hub of Cuyahoga County, where Oyashi sits as
director of the department of development. "We don't have earthquakes,
we don't have brush fires, we've got all the fresh water you could ever
want," Oyashi says. "That's logic. But the problem is, it flies in the
face of reality."

So this Oyashi guy is the development guy for Cleveland?  Who made the Toronto Star a shill for the Cleveland chamber of commerce?  Is it really this writer's premise that we are on the verge of a reverse migration from Phoenix to Cleveland?  My sense is that we are not on the verge of such a reverse migration, and this is a chance for everyone in the Rust Belt to lament that fact.

At first glance, the crises
of the rust belt and the Southwest would seem unrelated. They are, in
fact, inexorably linked. Each has what the other does not. In Phoenix,
tremendous affluence; in Cleveland, and in Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown,
Buffalo, Rochester, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, abundant,
near-endless water "“ in the Great Lakes alone, as much as 25 per cent
of the world's supply.

Note the writer implicitly accepts the zero-sum wealth fallacy -- in his eyes, wealth is a natural resource just like water.  Cleveland has water, Phoenix has wealth.  I won't get into this fallacy much here, but suffice it to say wealth is not something that springs magically from a well.  More here.  For a hundred years, Cleveland was a wealth-creation machine.  To the extent they are not today, they might check their tax and regulatory policies.

And as the Southwest and parts of the
Southeast grapple with historic drought, water supply depletion "“
earlier this year, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, a primary water source
for the Everglades, caught fire "“ and the creeping sense that, with
climate change, things can only get worse, a new reality is dawning:
that logic, finally, will have a larger role to play in human migratory
dynamics, continent-wide. With it come not just doomsday scenarios, but
for certain urban centres left for dead in the post-industrial
quagmire, a chance at new life.

Wow, where to start?  Anyone note the irony of Cleveland pointing fingers at someone because their lake caught on fire?  Not that he bothers to explain why a lake catching on fire is related to climate change or even drought.  And why on an article on the Southwest is the only example of water shortage taken from Florida?

But what you really need to note is the arrogant technocratic bent of the author.  He is saying that all you idiots in Phoenix are defying reality, and that finally maybe you will start making the right choices.  This is typical elitist crap.  In the author's world, anyone who makes a choice the author would not is making a wrong choice.

"Sticking a straw in the Great
Lakes is not a solution to Phoenix's water problems," says Robert
Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project at the State University
of New York at Buffalo. "Maybe it's time to really think about what
constitutes need and stop spending money to build carrying capacity in
places that don't have it by nature, and start investing in places that
do."

Shibley has long been a champion of Buffalo's dormant
potential "“ a potential reduced by half or more through the latter part
of the 20th century, as the population fell below 300,000 from a
historic high of more than 700,000.

OK, now we quote a second guy about problems in the American Southwest.  This guy is from Buffalo, New York and is a promoter of the city of Buffalo.  Why is the Toronto Star giving these guys paid advertising for their causes under the guise of a news article?  And who the hell ever suggested sending water from the Great Lakes to Phoenix?  This is a "straw" man if I ever heard one.  Even if we started building pipelines east, there would be no reason to go past the Missouri or Mississippi.

And I love this "investing in carrying capacity" thing.  What the hell does that mean?  Yeah, we have to build infrastructure when the city grows.  We have to look for water, you have to pay for snow plows.  To build in the desert, we have to pipe in water to survive.  So what?  Buffalo and Toronto and Cleveland have to truck or pipe in coal and heating oil in the winter to survive.  What's the difference?

He suggests that in the
Great Lakes basin, where less than half a per cent of the world's
population sits within easy reach of a quarter of the planet's fresh
water, the opportunity for harmony exists. In a perfect world governed
by reason, Shibley says, the only robust economic centre in the region
would serve as its heart. And that would be Toronto.

Oh my God, what a statement.  Humanity's last hope to live in harmony with nature is to move to the Rust Belt, home of a disproportionate number of America's Superfund sites and the burning Coyahoga River.  These are cities that still use the Great Lakes as a toilet, dumping tons of raw sewage out in the lakes every day.

That's an
issue for international bureaucrats to solve. But the reality is this:
according to the U.S. government, the population of the United States
is expected to reach 450 million by 2050 "“ an increase of almost 50 per
cent. The predicted pattern of settlement for these new citizens will
take them to the seven most built-out regions of the country "“ Arizona,
Texas, Florida and California among them.

Have you seen Arizona?  Is this guy really arguing that Arizona is more built-out than Michigan, New York, and Ohio?

"You're going to have
150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that
don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves,"
Shibley says. "It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. So
there's a good reason to think that people should come back to the
Northeast, where we have the carrying capacity, and have the water."

First, we have water.  We don't even have rationing here in Phoenix, and have not in my memory.  What does "have no water mean?"  The issue with Phoenix water is that we have about the cheapest water in the country.  Any overuse (whatever that means) of water here is because politicians pander to citizens and set the price very low.  So yes, I have a big lawn that seems nuts in the desert, but that is because my water bill here is less than half of what it was in Seattle(!)  Raise the price, and I would probably xerascape my lawn.

And what city in the Great Lakes area "feeds itself?"  No one in American cities feeds themselves.  Its called division of labor.

Some have already taken notice. Last year, The Economist
ranked Cleveland the most liveable city in America (26th in the world)
based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and
environment, education and infrastructure. Among the booming cities of
the Southwest, only Los Angeles and Houston cracked the top 50. Phoenix
didn't make the list, falling behind Nairobi, Algiers and Phnomh Penh
among the world's top 126 urban centres.

LOL.  I love it, we're behind Nairobi in some survey.  Look, there is a huge disconnect in this whole argument.  If Cleveland is really more liveable, then people will move there.  But the author is saying that people are moving to Phoenix instead.  So the theme of the article is that, what?  Phoenix has a problem with too many people moving in and has a problem with too many people moving out?  This is back to the technocratic elitism.  The author is just upset that ordinary people don't do what journalists tell them they should do.

Water is a factor. It
is already a significant issue in the major regions Shibley mentions
which, not coincidentally, depend on the same diminishing source for
much of their hydration.

In 1922, seven states "“ many of them,
like Nevada, Arizona, Texas and California, desperately arid "“ signed
the Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the mighty waterway's
seemingly abundant flow.

But recent observation of the river is
alarming. Only two per cent of the river's water makes it beyond the
U.S. border, where large Mexican cities dependent on its bounty are
left with a trickle "“ much less than they need. With climate change,
river flow has been dwindling, due, among other things, to decreasing
snowfall and less consequent spring runoff, which forms a significant
part of the Colorado River basin's lifeblood.

The river is the
main water source for more than 30 million people stretching from
Colorado in the north all the way down to the U.S.-Mexico border. By
the end of the century, inflow to the river (which includes runoff and
tributaries) is expected to drop by as much as 40 per cent.

First, who is saying that climate change is affecting the flow of the Colorado River?  Annual variations certainly affect it, but no one, and I mean no one, has created a climate model with the resolution to say that if there is substantial global warming in the future,the effect on the Colorado River flow will be X or Y.  Even the IPCC admits it really doesn't have a clue how world temperature changes might affect river flows, or the water cycle in general.  People always want to assume that hotter means drier, but hotter also means a lot more ocean evaporation which can translate into more, not less, precipitation. 

The problem with the use of the Colorado is not climate, but price.  As mentioned above, Phoenix has among the lowest water prices in the country.  In addition, farmers in Arizona and Southern California, who use most of the water despite the snide remarks about golf courses and billion dollar homes, get rates subsidized even lower.  Letting water prices rise to a real supply/demand clearing price that matches demand to river flow would solve the water "crisis" in about five minutes.

At
the same time, climate change projections show temperatures in the most
parched regions of the Southwest increasing between five and seven
degrees. That would make Phoenix's hottest days well over 54C.

Five to seven degrees C are at the high, worst case end of the IPCC projections, which are themselves grossly overstated for a number of reasons I wrote here and here.  Also, much of the warming would be winter nights -- you just can't add the global warming projections to the daytime maximums -- this is plain ignorant.   One thing I agree with -- if our daytime temperatures were to reach 54C, which is over 129F, I will be moving. 

In
Arizona, though, these warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. "The Greater
Phoenix region continues to bust at the seams," says Christopher Scott,
a research professor of water resource policy at the University of
Arizona in Tucson. "People look at this and think, `This can't go on,
can it?'"

But it does, and faster than anywhere else in America.
From 1990 to 2005, the population of Greater Phoenix grew 47.7 per
cent. In Scottsdale, a posh, affluent corner of Greater Phoenix that,
despite the lack of moisture, has more golf courses per capita than
anywhere else in America, growth was 72.1 per cent over the same
period.

Altogether, Greater Phoenix will likely crest at 4
million people some time this year, making it the fourth-largest
metropolitan area in America. By mid-century, some estimates suggest it
will reach 10 million, leaving Phoenix and Tucson fused in the desert.
"We'll basically be one massive urban corridor," Scott says.

Hey, he quoted a guy from west of the Mississippi!  This is the same kind of language that every anti-growth person uses in every city.  And by the way, there is that class thing again -- "posh, affluent."  And what does "bust at the seams" mean?  Phoenix has some of the least-bad traffic of any major city, we have sufficient water, sufficient power, lots of raw land, etc.

Phoenix
receives water from the Colorado through canals hundreds of kilometres
long, pumped through parched landscapes and small communities along the
way that take their fill. It is, essentially, a city that shouldn't be
there, so distant is the water supply.

"Shouldn't be there," by what definition?  Here is what that means:  "I, the author, don't think there should be a city there."  OK, don't live here.  Couldn't I write this sentence instead, "Cleveland receives petroleum from Texas and the Middle East in pipelines hundreds of miles long to provide needed heat in their cold winters.  Its is, essentially, a city that shouldn't be there, so distant is its energy supply."  Jeez, why is it we can have a global economy and division of labor and move resources around the world, but we have to build cities right next to water sources.  What about Aluminum, oil, gold, bauxite, lead, zinc, and iron?  Must we only build cities where all these are near by as well?

Scott, who has studied
water supply issues from India to Mexico to West Africa, has seen no
end to water-appropriation schemes in development-crazy Arizona.
"Piping in sea water from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, desalinating it,
and then piping the salty brine back into the ocean "“ that's the kind
of hare-brained notion I've heard here," he says. "Do I consider these
things tenable? Not at all. But these are proposals people are talking
about seriously, in public, and they're getting a lot more play."

Scott
worries that technology may well make such things possible, but at a
destructive energy cost that simply exacerbates the problem. "We're
already starting to ask questions about the larger issues associated
with pumping in all that water along those canals "“ the energy costs,
and the carbon impact associated with it," he says. "They may solve the
water issue short-term, but they pull the sustainability rug out from
under you in the process."

We now see the author's real position.  He is not really lamenting the lack of water in the Southwest - he likes it.  He wants to drive people out.  We see he and professor Scott here actually lamenting the fact that technology might solve the water problem.

As to the sustainability issue, its absurd.  I will admit I don't know the figures, but I would be shocked if moving water around was even 0.1% of US energy use.  And besides, we move everything else around the world, moving water is trivial.

Finally, I don't really want to accept the author's premise that CO2 reduction is so critical, but if I were to accept it, I might point out that most of our electricity in Phoenix is provided by America's largest nuclear plant supplemented by natural gas, while mid-Western cities are fed mostly by big old honkin coal burning plants.  I would put our electric generation carbon footprint up against most any Rust Belt city.

The long-term solution, of course, is
to relocate people where they can comfortably exist. (Oyashi certainly
knows a place where you can get a decent house on the cheap.) In a free
society, of course, forced migration isn't really an option.

Do you get the sense he says the last line with a frustrated sigh, lamenting the fact that he can't force people to live where he thinks they should live?

But
as the sustainability crisis worsens, "usually economic forces will do
it for you," says Robert McLeman, a professor of geography at the
University of Ottawa. "When cities have to build new infrastructure and
to jack up taxes to cope, when the cost of running a household becomes
prohibitive, people will move."

Fine, but I will bet you a million dollars our taxes in Phoenix are a lot lower than they are in Toronto. And I know for a fact, since I almost moved there once, that our cost of living is a lot lower.  So maybe this infrastructure and sustainability crisis in Phoenix is a chimera?  Maybe its just wishful thinking?

..."Once the heat becomes unbearable, they may find the
freezing cold a little more bearable"“especially if it's not quite so
freezing cold as they remember."

It won't happen without help. In
Buffalo, Shibley speaks of a federal urban sustainabilty plan that
funnels federal money to the Great Lakes region to help draw population
back. It's been more than 30 years since the U.S. had a comprehensive
national urban plan. Looming ecological crises in burgeoning urban
centers more than justify a revival. "Cities don't grow by topsy, it's
not a thing of nature "“ it's a function of public policy," he says.

Oops, we seem to be abandoning the whole "free society" thing above.  Sure looks like they want to use federal law and tax policy to drive migration where they want it to go, against where people are moving currently of their own free will.  Oh, and city growth is NOT a function of public policy.  Cities grew up and evolved long before government ever took a heavy hand in their development.

But
a significant piece is missing, McLeman warns. "These cities will have
milder climates, be easier to live in, and cheaper," he says, "but
ultimately, they'll have to have the jobs to go with them."

Oyashi
is painfully familiar with the concept. Cleveland may have a surfeit of
cheap, liveable housing and an abundance of fresh water, but its
problems are legion. Abandoned industrial sites litter the area, too
big or too expensive to put to other purposes. Small victories pale in
the face of greater challenges, like trying to convince Ford not to
close two of its three plants in the region. "We've got some dinosaurs
walking around here," he says.

Speaking of public policy and taxation, you don't think that different public policy choices in Cleveland vs. Phoenix might have a teensy bit to do with this?

But those problems, endemic
rust-belt-wide, are just the most visible. High crime rates,
languishing schools and spiralling urban poverty plague Cleveland, too.
Phoenix, for all its money, can't make it rain any more than Cleveland,
with all its water, can print the money it needs....

Gee, the relative growth in Phoenix vs. the lack thereof in Cleveland sure is a head scratcher.  Its incredible that people would tolerate long transportation distances for water just to escape things like high crime rates, languishing schools and spirally urban poverty.

He lays the responsibility at the federal
government's door. "It's not like we have a policy that says, `You
know, we should have a national policy that provides incentive for
people to live in ecologically sustainable areas,'" he says. "What we
have here is `Go wherever you want, do whatever you want, and the
government will follow with its chequebook.' You get this haphazard
checkerboard of winners and losers, rather than directed development in
the regions that can sustain it. It's crisis management."

Yes, its just awful that the government lets people live wherever they want and then puts infrastructure in the places people choose to live.  So haphazard!  People are doing things that are not controlled or directed!  Eek!Clearly the author thinks the government should build the infrastructure wherever it wants to, and then force people to live in those places.   We elites know better!  We will tell you where you should live!  And by the way, who in the hell anointed the Rust Belt with the title of "most sustainable area."  And what is sustainability?  Couldn't I argue that all those midwest cities are sitting on valuable cropland or forest land, and that Phoenix is the most sustainable because we are just building on empty desert?  And if there is such a thing as sustainability in city development, who decided that the proximity of fresh water was the #1 be-all end-all component?

So, I will make a counter-proposal.   Rather than focusing on cities, let's focus on agriculture, because water IS a be-all end-all component to agriculture.  Much of the water we use in the Southwest is for agriculture, and I
don't think that agriculture would be here without huge subsidies. Frankly, the sustainability problem of agriculture in the desert is orders of magnitude worse than that of cities here.  So here is the plan:

1) Sell water in Arizona for a price that better matches supply and demand

2) Stop subsidizing water for agriculture

3) Stop sending farm subsidies, such as for cotton, to people to grow crops in the desert.

This would relieve a taxpayer burden AND it would likely shift farming out of the Southwest to places like the Midwest.    As a result, you would get a migration of farmers and agriculture back east and you would free up a lot of water in the southwest so more people can live here, where they really want to live.    But of course, this is not what the author wants.  He wants more people in the cities, paying absurdly high Detroit property and income taxes.  Well, good luck.

Update:  Large follow-up post to this one, including research on Arizona water use and how the Rust Belt treats the Great Lakes like a toilet here.

I Lost My Google Ranking

Bummer.  I seem to have lost the #1 Google search result for myself (though I do have 6 of the first 8). My blog gets crazy Google love, so its odd that some guy's training page (or whatever the hell that is) at the Church of Scientology could outrank me.  Have to start some serious SEO ;=)

Finished Harry Potter (no Spoilers)

My whole family was nice enough to choose this weekend to be away, so I could read Harry Potter 7 in peace (yes, I know, I am getting old when I use a bachelor weekend to read a book).  I thought is was a well-done conclusion to the series.

On Friday at midnight, I went out to get a copy for my son, who was driving with friends to San Diego early Saturday morning.  The Borders near us was a zoo -- what looked like a 2-hour line, and I didn't even have the right armband to get into it.  Fortunately, the 24-hour grocery store 2 blocks away had plenty and no line, so I did not have to wait.  (My bet is that if I had gone back to the Borders and shouted that there were books with no waiting a few blocks away, only a few would leave -- it was an event, not just a line.  Somehow, I think the perceived value of the book went up having waited in line for it.)

Anyway, I just wanted to make a couple of observations about the Harry Potter books:

  • You can complain all you want about JK Rowling's writing style or selective character development or whatever, but anyone who can have teenagers waiting in line at midnight to buy the last 800 pages of a nearly 5000 page narrative -- waiting in line to read! -- should have a spot reserved for her in the Poet's corner at Westminster Abbey.
  • Name any other book that had such an even mix of adults and kids reading it over the weekend
  • I am not big on the need for shared national experiences like certain conservatives or liberals are, but the Harry Potter books certainly constituted such a shared experience.