Archive for April 2008

Footloose, Arizona Style

At San Tan Flats, you can dance if you want to:

Outdoor dancing is now allowed at San Tan Flat.

Pinal County Superior Court Judge William O'Neil Wednesday
overturned the decision of the county board of supervisors that said
the restaurant was operating illegally by allowing patrons to dance to
live music on its back patio.

The case, which stretched over two years, drew national attention.


The supervisors' decision stemmed from a 1962 ordinance that banned outdoor dance halls.

Dale Bell, owner of the restaurant, contended the county violated his rights to run his business.

He sued the county for $1.

"That $1 is about freedom and about civil liberties and the government not being allowed to overreact," Bell said Wednesday.

Pinal County threatened to fine Bell $700 for each day he violated the ordinance.

While We Are On The Subject of Oil...

Glen Reynolds brings us this:

A provision in the US Carbon Neutral Government Act incorporated
into the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 act effectively
bars the US government from buying fuels that have greater life-cycle
emissions than fuels produced from conventional petroleum sources.

The United States has defined Alberta oilsands as unconventional
because the bitumen mined from the ground requires upgrading and
refining as opposed to the traditional crude pumped from oil wells.

California Democrat Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Republican Tom
Davis added the clause.

Uh, right.  Since we all burn pure unrefined crude oil pumped right from the oil well in our car. 

Here is what a traditional crude oil goes through before it becomes gasoline:

  • Water and salt must be removed
  • The oil is heated up to over 700 degrees, and is separated into its fractions via distillation.  Oil is made up of hydrocarbon chains of many lengths, from short ones (methane, ethane, propane) to very long ones (asphalt, heavy motor oils).  Gasoline is somewhere in between.
  • Each fraction generally has to be de-sulfurized.  This generally occurs by injecting hydrogen into the fraction across a catalyst bed to remove the sulfur as Hydrogen Sulfide, a dangerous gas that must be further processed to produce pure sulfur.
  • The gasoline fractions in a typical oil are nowhere near large enough for the relative demand.  So additional steps must be taken to produce gasoline:
    • Very heavy fractions have their molecules cracked at high temperatures, either in cokers, high temperature crackers or in fluid catalyst bed crackers.  These processes either remove carbon in its pure form or remove it by combining it with hydrogen
    • Certain fractions are reformed in combination with hyrdrogen, sometimes across a platinum catalyst, to produce molecules with better properties for gasoline, including higher octane.
    • All over a refinery, there are small units that take individual fractions that use a variety of processes to create specific molecules that have useful properties
  • All of these different fractions and products are blended in various proportions to make different grades of gasoline.  These blends and proportions can change from city to city (to meet environmental regulations, Phoenix must have a gasoline blend that is unique in the US) and must change season to season (gas that burns well in winter will vapor lock in the summer time).

I am sure I left tons of steps out, but you get the idea.  Below are my old digs at Exxon's Baytown Texas Refinery, where I worked as an engineer for 3 years out of college:

Baytown2  Baytown_2

Cognitive Dissonance

As a follow-up to this post on gas-price demagoguery, I would like to observe that the very same people who are most likely to demagogue about high gas prices in this country are the very same ones who advocate that the US adopt European-style taxation levels, regulatory policy, and CO2 targets, the results of which can be seen here:

Gas1

If you can't read the colors on the scale well, I think you can guess which is the US price line and which are the European gas prices.  Source here.  Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with wholesale gasoline prices, which are substantially similar between the US and Europe:

Gas2

Since the difference in price does not go to the producer, I will leave it as an exercise to guess where the extra $5 per gallon is going (hint:  Uncle Francois)  The cognitive dissonance required to call for 80% CO2 reductions while simultaneously decrying $3.50 gas prices is just stunning to me.

Update:  From the same source, here are the gas prices in dollars per US gallon EXCLUDING taxes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date Belgium France Germany Italy Nthrlnds UK US
4/14/2008 3.32 3.28 3.18 3.61 3.85 3.09 3.21

Update #2:  More here on Hillary's sleight of hand.  And this from Robert Samuelson, at how this cognitive dissonance extends to exploration limits:

We could be producing more, but Congress has put large areas of
potential supply off-limits. These include the Atlantic and Pacific
coasts and parts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
By government estimates, these areas may contain 25 billion to 30
billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion barrels of proven U.S.
reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas
(compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves).

What keeps these areas closed are exaggerated environmental fears,
strong prejudice against oil companies and sheer stupidity. Americans
favor both "energy independence" and cheap fuel. They deplore imports
-- who wants to pay foreigners? -- but oppose more production in the
United States. Got it? The result is a "no-pain energy agenda that
sounds appealing but has no basis in reality," writes Robert Bryce in
"Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence.' "

Cui Bono?

Here is something I didn't know:  Way back in the 1990's, Enron was lobbying hard for cap and trade legislation to create a lucrative new trading profit center for the company (HT Tom Nelson)

In the early 1990s Enron had helped establish the market for, and
became the major trader in, EPA's $20 billion-per-year sulphur dioxide
cap-and-trade program, the forerunner of today's proposed carbon credit
trade. This commodity exchange of emission allowances caused Enron's
stock to rapidly rise.

Then came the inevitable question, what
next? How about a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program? The problem was
that CO2 is not a pollutant, and therefore the EPA had no authority to
cap its emission. Al Gore took office in 1993 and almost immediately
became infatuated with the idea of an international environmental
regulatory regime. He led a U.S. initiative to review new projects
around the world and issue "˜credits' of so many tons of annual CO2
emission reduction. Under law a tradeable system was required, which
was exactly what Enron also wanted because they were already trading
pollutant credits.

Thence Enron vigorously lobbied Clinton and
Congress, seeking EPA regulatory authority over CO2. From 1994 to 1996,
the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million dollars - $990,000 -
to the Nature Conservancy, whose Climate Change Project promotes global
warming theories. Enron philanthropists lavished almost $1.5 million on
environmental groups that support international energy controls to
"reduce" global warming. Executives at Enron worked closely with the
Clinton administration to help create a scaremongering climate science
environment because the company believed the treaty could provide it
with a monstrous financial windfall. The plan was that once the problem
was in place the solution would be trotted out.

With Enron out of the picture, the way is clear for new players to dominate this multi-billion dollar new business.  And look who is ready to take over from Enron:

The investment
vehicle headed by Al Gore has closed a new $683m fund to invest in
early-stage environmental companies and has mounted a robust defence of
green investing.

The Climate Solutions Fund will be one of the biggest in the growing market for investment funds with an environmental slant.

The fund
will be focused on equity investments in small companies in four
sectors: renewable energy; energy efficiency technologies; energy from
biofuels and biomass; and the carbon trading markets.

This is
the second fund from Generation Investment Management, chaired by the
former vice-president of the US and managed by David Blood, former head
of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The first, the Global Equity
Strategy Fund, has $2.2bn invested in large companies the company
judges have "sustainable" businesses, from an environmental, social and
economic viewpoint. Mr Blood said he expected that fund to be worth
$5bn within two years, based on commitments from interested investors.

Going green indeed.

The Wussification of America

From the Arizona Republic, presented without comment:

Phoenix fire vehicles, including some hazardous-materials units,
responded to a small mercury spill at Mountain Pointe High School
Tuesday afternoon. No one "complained of medical problems" or was
transported to a hospital, said Mark Faulkner, Phoenix Fire Department
division chief for the public affairs.

At about 1:30 p.m. a call came to the Fire Department about a
"dime-size spill of mercury" on the campus at 4201 E. Knox Road in
Ahwatukee Foothills, Faulkner said.

The mercury was in a science laboratory but how it spilled is unknown.
It could have been part of an experiment or possibly a thermometer
cracked, Faulkner said.

One of My Favorite Short Stories as a Boy

I rediscovered today an old favorite of mine, a short story written by Winston Churchill (yes, the same guy) in about 1930.  My son was searching for examples of alternative history, and found "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg"

Amazon One-Star Reviews

Have I ever told you that I really like author John Scalzi?  Not just because I love his books, but I do really enjoy his work.  I like him because he spends a lot of time promoting the work of other young writers and promoting the science fiction and fantasy genre in general.

Recently, Scalzi published on his blog all his Amazon one-star reviews.  As a fairly novice writer who will never write as well as Scalzi, I found this quite liberating.  If folks like him endure these bad reviews, maybe I should not let my own setbacks get me down.  He has challenged other authors to do the same, publishing their Amazon one-star reviews online.  In this post, he links a number of authors who have taken up the challenge, including Charles Stross and Jo Walton.

So, though I am not in the league of these other authors, I will post my one-star review for my book BMOC.

I like the concept for the book and like reading Warren Meyer's Coyote
Blog. I don't understand how crude and uncouth became popular and I am
disappointed that is the approach that was chosen with this book. I
should have paid attention to the review by "Warren's mother." I've
returned my copy to Amazon for a refund.

Wow, I actually feel better.  Based on this review, I will warn you as I warn my friends when I give them a copy:  The book has its crude parts, and I have only let my kids read highly edited portions.  That being said, its not Fear of Flying either, and my parent's priest read it without spontaneously combusting.  But don't buy it if you are turned off by harsh language and some sexual humor.  I have two youth novels in the works, you can save your money for them ;=)

Postscript:  This is one of the one-star reviews posted for Anya Bast's Witch Fire:

"Not romance, not erotica, basically porn - what little plot there is
exists to connect the sex scenes, note I didn't say love making scenes.
Altogether distasteful and I won't waste money on this author again."

LOL, if the review is trying to hurt Ms. Bast's sales, I am not positive this is the right approach.

OMG

Wow- a video of Jimmy Page in 1957.  For you younger folks, Page was lead guitarist for the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, among others.

Demagoguery

Hillary has jumped on the gas tax holiday along with John McCain.   Kevin Drum calls it pure demagoguery (he probably wouldn't have been so blunt about Hillary, but since he already derided McCain for the idea, he has the good grace to apply the same criticisms to Hillary:

I'd say there's approximately a zero percent chance that Hillary
Clinton or John McCain actually believe this is good policy. It would
increase oil company profits, it would make hardly a dent in the price
of gasoline, it would encourage more summertime driving, and it would
deprive states of money for transit projects. Their staff economists
know this perfectly well, and so do they.

But they don't care. It's a way to engage in some good, healthy
demagoguery, and if there's anything that the past couple of months
have reinforced, it's the notion that demagoguery sells. Boy does it
sell.

I tend to agree with Drum.  The gas tax, at least when applied to its original purpose of funding highways and roads, is one of the better taxes out there, doing a pretty good job of matching the costs of roads to the users of the roads.  However, I did make this point in Drum's comment section:

I am glad you see that an 18.4 cent gas price reduction is small compared to the total price and proposing such a reduction by government fiat is pure demagoguery. 

I would like to point out that most oil companies have a profit on a wholesale gallon of gas that is also about 18-20 cents.  The reason they make so much money is that they sell a lot of gallons of gas (plus many other petroleum products).  So is it similarly pure demagoguery to blame oil company profits for the price of gas, or to suggest government schemes (e.g. windfall profits tax) to reduce these profits?

By the way, Hillary is particularly hypocritical on this, because she has adopted the 80 by 50 CO2 target (80% reduction by 2050).  To meet this target, which I think would be an economic disaster, is not going to require an 18.4 cent gas tax, but something like a $10 a gallon gas tax, or more.  Since she has adopted her 80 by 50 target, her correct answer on gas taxes should not be to propose a holiday, but to say "suck it up, because taxes are going to go a hell of a lot higher."  McCain, who has also adopted a CO2 target, though a less stringent one, is in the same boat.

Update:  OK, the $10 per gallon tax is probably gross under-estimated.  The number is likely to have to be much higher than that, given that Europeans are already paying nearly $10 a gallon and are not even in the ballpark of these CO2 targets.

Cost of gasoline
(U.S. Dollars per Gallon)
Date___     Belgium  France  Germany  Italy  Netherlands  UK  _ US
4/20/98     3.43___  3.44__  3.25___  3.48_  3.56_______ 4.04  1.21
4/21/08     8.62___  8.34__  8.58___  8.32_  9.51_______ 8.17  3.73

HT:  Hall of Record

From Now On I Must Be Addressed as "Award winning Filmmaker" Coyote

Here is the public announcement of my second prize in a climate video contest.  I am pretty sure I am not a kid, though, nor do I remember portraying myself as such. 

By the way, for those who don't know me well, the title of this post is a joke.  I often deride people for adopting titles like "award-winning X" when the award in question is often unknown or even, like as not, a product of a paid PR effort. 

Two-Income "Trap", aka the Government Trap

Todd Zywicki has a nice post on the The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke by Professor Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. 

In his writings on the tactics for engineering the communist state, Karl Marx talked a lot about the need to "proletarianize the middle class."  This has been a very popular tactic among leftish writers and politicians today, attempting to convince the middle class that they never had it so bad.

I won't repeat Zywicki's whole post, but the books author's argument revolve around examples which purport to show that as families go from one to two earners, their costs (health care, child care, cars, mortgage, etc.) go up by more than the additional income, making them poorer on a discretionary spending basis.

Zywicki first points out the same thing I immediately thought of when I read a summary of the book:

It is not clear what to make of all of this, except that it is hard to
see how this confirms the central hypothesis of "The Two-Income Trap"
that "necessary" expenses such as mortgage, car payments, and health
insurance are the primary draing on the modern family's budget. And
again, this unrealistically assumes that all increased spending on
houses and cars is exogenously determined, ignoring the possibility
that an increase in income leads to an endogenous decision by some
households to increase their expenditures on items such as houses and
cars.

While the assumption seems crazy, it makes sense in the context of leftish ideology, which holds that the middle class have only limited free will and tend to have their decision making corrupted by advertising and other corporate pressures.

But Zywicki goes further, and actually digs into the author's numbers.  He finds that the authors are surprisingly coy about addressing changes in taxation in their numbers.   Zywicki then uses the authors' own numbers, this time with taxes factored in using the authors' own assumptions, and gets these two charts:
Toddtwo_income_3

Toddtwo_income_4

As Zywicki summarizes:

As can readily be seen, expenses for health insurance, mortgage, and automobile, have actually declined
as a percentage of the household budget. Child care is a new expense.
But even this new expenditure is about a quarter less than the increase
in taxes. Moreover, unlike new taxes and the child care expenses
incurred to pay them, increases in the cost of housing and automobiles
are offset by increases in the value of real and personal property as
household assets that are acquired in exchange.

Overall, the typical family in the 2000s pays substantially
more in taxes than in their mortgage, automobile expenses, and health
insurance costs combined.
And the growth in the tax obligation
between the two periods is substantially greater the growth in
mortgage, automobile expenses, and health insurance costs combined. And
note, this is using the data taken directly from Warren and Tiyagi's
book.

Something Else I didn't Know

Something I didn't know:  Arizona has a State Board of Homeopathic Examiners.   Seriously?  Do we also have a state board for horoscope writers?  For witch doctors?  For water diviners?  Doesn't the Flat Earth society need some supervision?

How do you have a board of scientific examiners for a discipline that has no science behind it.  A key part of homeopathy is the repetitive dilution of active ingredients to make "medicines."  In fact, homeopathy advocates claim that more diluted mixtures are more potent.  Here is an example, via Wikipedia:

Hahnemann advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes (that is, dilution by a factor of 1060).[73] A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C [1 in 10400] dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. Comparing these levels of dilution to Avogadro's number, one liter of a 12C homeopathic remedy created from diluting 1 liter of 1 molar solution
contains on average only about 0.602 molecules of the original
substance per liter of the 12C remedy. Similarly, the chance of a
single molecule of the original substance remaining in a liter of 15C
remedy dose is about one in 1.7 million, and about one in 1.7 trillion
trillion trillion (1036) for a 30C solution.

So what does the Homeopathic board do, look at the products sold for $100 by homeopaths and say, yep, that's pure water, it must be a valid homeopathic brew?

According to our governor here in Arizona, the Homepathic examiners are not doing their job.  What does that mean?  Did some homeopath actually sell a product that had a measurable amount of the active ingredient?  Anyway, the two comments so far on the Republic article sort of sum the whole debate up:

Commenter 1:  The number of people injured by homeopathic treatments is a tiny
fraction of the number of people killed and injured by regular
allopathic physicians and prescription drugs. The allopathic community
doesn't like the competition, though, so they create a crisis.

Commenter 2:The number of people helped by homeopathic treatments remains zero, so
the cost/benefit ration is infinitely higher than that of allopathy.  It's true that the allopathic medicine industry doesn't like
competition, but that doesn't change the fact that homeopathy is
nothing more than faith healing.

A couple of notes, just so I am not misunderstood:

  1. I am sympathetic with the desire not to load oneself up with drugs as much as many doctors seem to prescribe.  I have been prescribed antibiotics about 10 times in the last 20 years and have actually taken them once.  That being said, all those drugs and medical procedures have a real utility in aggregate.  To some extent homeopaths are, like vaccination avoiders, free riders on the medical care provided everyone else.  Go try your diluted duck liver in a plague-ravaged Middle Age city and see how far it gets you.  Go back 100 years and see how many of your children you can save from early death with homeopathy.
  2. I am very sympathetic to those who are frustrated that the current medical profession provides only one type of care without competition.  I have argued this same thing many times.  Its absurd, for example, that we have to go to a person with 8 years of medical education to get a few stitches put in.  Why can't someone with far less expensive education set up an emergency practice without an MD to dress and sew up simple wounds?  Think how much this would clear out the typical ER.  But we can't, because the government colludes with doctors to protect their medical monopoly and their single preferred (read intensive and expensive) style of care.

Why You Seldom See Me In My Own Comment Threads

A reader asks:

I enjoy reading your Coyote and Climate Skeptic blogs, thanks for hosting
them! I am curious why you don't take part in the comments that rage
over many of your postings.

There are several reasons.  First, I usually feel that I have said what I have to say in a particular post.  I enjoy reading the comments, but don't have a strong need to correct or combat those who misinterpret or disagree with me.  I learn from comments and try to make my arguments more bullet-proof in the future.  Second, I find it infinitely more powerful if my reader base makes the rebuttals for me.

Third, and most importantly, I just don't have the time.  Way back when, I used to get sucked into all kinds of chat-room flame wars.  It is just way to time-consuming.  Even blogging itself takes more time than I really should commit to an activity that does nothing to advance the well-being of my family or my business.  There is a person I consider an online friend (I have never met him in person) who writes a climate blog and gets sucked into the flame wars on his blog, and it seems to cause him all kinds of stress. 

This cartoon from XKCD seems appropriate as a summation:

Duty_calls

So, if I do not respond to your critiques in the comment thread, do not assume that your wit and eloquence have silenced me.  I am probably waiting to re-post on the subject in the future.  Just because you don't yet feel anything nibbling on your legs does not mean that the fin swimming around you in the water is going to go away peacefully.

The Newest Threat to the Republic

There are two America's:  The one that is trying to steal my freedom from the top down (wiretaps, proscutorial abuse, expanding executive power) and the one that is trying to steel freedom from the bottom up.  Reason, as quote by TJIC, has a nice piece on one of the bottom-up fascists:

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, there exists
another world, an underground world of illicit trade in - not drugs or
sex - but bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Street vendors may sell you an
illegal bacon dog, but hardly anyone will talk about it, for fear of
being hassled, shut down or worse. Our camera caught it on tape. One
minute bacon dogs are sold in plain view, the next minute cops have
confiscated carts, and ordered the dogs dumped into the trash.

Elizabeth Palacios is one of the few vendors willing to speak
publicly. "Doing bacon is illegal," she explains. Problem is customers
love bacon, and Palacios says she loses business if she doesn't give
them the bacon they demand. "Bacon is a potentially hazardous food,"
says Terrence Powell of the LA County Health Department. Continue
selling bacon dogs without county-approved equipment and you risk fines
and jail time.

Palacios knows all about that. She spent 45 days in the slammer for selling bacon dogs,
and with the lost time from work, fines, and attorney's fees, she fears
she might lose the house that bacon dogs helped buy. She must provide
for her family, but remains trapped between government regulations and
consumer demand. Customers don't care about safety codes, says
Palacios. "They just want the bacon."

TJIC, as he often does, captures a number of the best comments.  The full reason video is below:

I Was Right -- Superbowl Economic Contribution Numbers Completely Bogus

In this post, I called bullsh*t on this economic contribution number:

A study released today by the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee
estimates professional football's championship game at University of
Phoenix Stadium in Glendale generated an economic impact of $500.6
million for the state.

I used some quick reality checks to show that the likelihood that this was a truly incremental economic contribution number was zero.  Now, Arizona has released its February sales tax numbers (the data I suggested was the best way to try to do this analysis).  As I suspected the numbers are not even close.  Let's start with this report from the Arizona Republic:

Sales-tax collections at hotels and motels showed the strongest gains
among tourism-related businesses as thousands of out-of-town visitors
booked rooms for the National Football League's Feb. 3 championship
game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

The Arizona Department of Revenue said February sales-tax collections
jumped 12.4 percent at hotels and motels. It was the lodging industry's
best showing, as measured by sales-tax collections, since January 2007.


Bars and restaurants also rebounded from two consecutive monthly declines to post a 4 percent gain in tax collections.

Despite the improved showing in those tourism-related categories,
the state's overall collections continued a downward trend, punctuated
by slumping retail sales and the real-estate industry's decline.
Arizona's total tax collections for the month checked in at $444.1
million, a decline of nearly 1.2 percent from the month before.

Well, that sure doesn't sound like $500 millions worth.  Let's look at the hotel number.  From this Arizona DOR source document (Feb 2008 Tax Facts), the taxable hotel/motel sales in February were about $215 million.  A 12.4% jump, if you attributed it all to the Superbowl, would thus be $27 million.  Similarly, a 4% jump in restaurant would be $33 million.  As I predicted, these don't even add up to $50 million and it is unlikely all of this is due to the Superbowl. 

[The above is still substantially correct.  What follows is corrected in the update] But wait, there's more!  I then I started looking closer at the February tax report.  I don't know what copy the reporter was using [probably one "specially annotated" by the Sports Authority], but my copy shows hotel/motel revenues in Arizona going down by 9% in February 2008 vs. Feb 2007.  It shows restaurants and bars going down by 2%. I checked the Feb 2007 report, just to make sure, and sure enough the 2007 numbers were much higher, despite one more day in February in 2008!  One can find ZERO incremental impact from the Superbowl.

Now these are statewide numbers, and it is possible the author of the article mixed in Maricopa County numbers and that is where the increases were seen.  If true, though, this means the dollar increase was much less, because we are using a smaller base (ie just one county, though a very large one).  And it means that the County numbers may be misleading, because the Phoenix area just cannibalized sales from the rest of Arizona, which was way down.  Either way, it means the $500 million number the Republic keeps pushing is total BS  (incredibly, the author reprints the $500 million number in his article, as if it were consistent with the sales tax data he is quoting.)

Update:  OK, I was right and wrong.  Apparently, when the state of Arizona says "February 2008 Taxable Sales" they mean Taxable sales on reports that they receive in February.  Because reports come in after the tax month is closed, by February 2008 taxable sales they actually mean sales that occurred in January, 2008.  Many apologies to Arizona Republic writer Ken Alltucker who was kind enough to set me straight.  The Arizona DOR report for March 2008 sales, which we now know is actually February 2008 sales, has not been posted online but I am willing to take his word on it.  This is not the first time, alas, that I have been fooled by the fact that the government uses cash rather than accrual accounting.

The wasted effort I expended on the February report which is actually January is not wasted:  From it, we do know that from studying what is actually the sales for January, the Superbowl had no discernible effect on hotel or restaurant revenues in the weeks leading up to the game, since these numbers were down substantially.  I am sure that you will find a few people singing the praises of the Superbowl.  I have not doubt that a few exclusive Scottsdale clubs benefited from having a series of celebrity parties during the run-up to the Superbowl, but overall the impact is low for exactly the reason I already stated:  Superbowl week, due to the nice weather and the Phoenix Open golf tournament, is already a big one for Phoenix area hotels and restaurants.

The point still stands.  I got diverted off on the report discrepancy, but using what I now understand to be correct numbers in the article shows that the ASU B-school study seems to have exaggerated the Superbowl's financial impact by as much as an order of magnitude.

So maybe in the future I will show more respect for reporters who make dumb numerical errors.  Or maybe I won't, since I don't get paid to do this nor do I have 2 or 3 layers of editors looking over my shoulder.

Weird Day

Well, I just managed to get trapped in an elevator by myself for 45-minutes.  They just got me out.  The good news:  I was bringing my lunch to the office, so I just sat on the floor and ate until they got me out.  I think that my biorhythms may be on a low today, so I may just call it a day before I get hit by a bus or something.

Prosecutorial Abuse vs. Parental Abuse

Apparently, the State of Texas is still trying to figure out what to do with those 400+ kids rounded up at the YFZ Ranch.  I don't really know enough about the case to comment on whether these kids were victims or not, though from reading this the evidence looks thin.

Here is my concern.  About 15 years ago I sat on a jury in Dallas.  The particular case was a child abuse case, with the state alleging a dad had sexually assaulted his daughter.  The whole case took about 3 days to present and it took the jury about 2 hours to find the guy innocent, and it took that long only because of one holdout.

The reason we found him innocent so quickly is because it became clear that the state had employed Janet Reno tactics (the Miami method, I think it was called) to put pressure on the child over a period of 6 months to break her out of her position that her dad had done nothing.  (By the way, is anyone else flabbergasted that Janet Reno, of all people, is on the board of the Innocence Project?).

Anyway, the dad was first arrested when the teenage babysitter told police that the daughter was behaving oddly and it seemed just like a story she had seen on Oprah.   Note, the babysitter did not witness any abuse nor did the girl mention any abuse to her.  She just was acting up one night.  At trial, the babysitter said her dream was to have this case propel her to an Oprah appearance of her own (I kid you not).

On that evidence alone, the state threw the dad in jail and starting a 6 month brainwashing and programming process aimed at getting the girl to say her dad abused her.  They used a series of negative reinforcements whenever the girl said dad was innocent and offered positive reinforcements if she would say dad had said X or Y.  Eventually, the little girl broke and told the state what they wanted to hear, but quickly recanted and held to the original story of her dad's innocent, all the way through the trial.

So, as quickly as we could, we set the dad free  (the last jury holdout, interestingly, was a big Oprah fan).  No one ever compensated for states abuse of the dad, and perhaps even worse, the states psychological abuse of his daughter.  I know nothing of what became of them, but I hope they are all OK.  I guess its lucky he did not get convicted, because while the Innocence project has freed a lot of people in Dallas, it sure is not going to work on this type of case with Janet Reno on its board.

Coming back to the YFZ case, I am worried that the state seems to be wanting to hold the kids for as long as possible, presumably to apply these methods to start getting kids to adopt the stories of abuse prosecutors want to hear.  In some ways, the YFZ case is even more dangerous from a prosecutorial abuse standpoint.  That is because there are a large number of people who think that strong religious beliefs of any type are, well, weird, and therefore are quicker to believe that other weird behavior may also be present.

Laughing at Florida and Michigan

I must say I am laughing my butt off at the states of Michigan and Florida.  If they had kept their original primary dates, their elections would likely have been critical, if not decisive, in the Democratic nomination.  Both would have gotten full-bore candidate attention, much as Ohio and now Pennsylvania have.  It could have been them who were joining Iowa in the great vote sell-off, trading delegates for promises of ethanol subsidies or whatever the states are perceived to want.  But instead, in a bid to become more relevant, they tried to skirt the rules and in the process became irrelevant.  So instead of promising Floridians that they will enhance old age benefits or doing something with Cuba, the candidates instead are out there promising Pennsylvanians and Ohioans that they will throttle our North American trading partners.

Arthur C. Clarke Was Wrong, So Progress Must Have Stopped

Neo-Erlichism from Paul Krugman:

Much of what I did back then was look for estimates of the cost of
alternative energy sources, which played a big role in Nordhaus's big paper that
year. (Readers with access to JSTOR might want to look at the
acknowledgments on the first page.) And the estimates "” mainly from
Bureau of Mines publications "” were optimistic. Shale oil, coal
gasification, and eventually the breeder reactor would satisfy our
energy needs at not-too-high prices when the conventional oil ran out.

None of it happened. OK, Athabasca tar sands have finally become a
significant oil source, but even there it's much more expensive "” and
environmentally destructive "” than anyone seemed to envision in the
early 70s.

You might say that this is my answer to those who cheerfully assert
that human ingenuity and technological progress will solve all our
problems. For the last 35 years, progress on energy technologies has
consistently fallen below expectations.

I'd actually suggest that this is true not just for energy but for
our ability to manipulate the physical world in general: 2001 didn't
look much like 2001,
and in general material life has been relatively static. (How do the
changes in the way we live between 1958 and 2008 compare with the
changes between 1908 and 1958? I think the answer is obvious.)

My goodness, its hard to know where to start.  Forgive me if I do not remain well-organized in this post, but there is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to start.

A forecast is not reality

First and foremost, the fact that forecasters, whether they be economists or science fiction writers, are wrong on their forecasts does not say anything about the world they are trying to model -- it merely says that the forecasters were wrong.  The fact that the the Canadian will be wrong in its prediction that 4.5 billion people will die by 2012 due to global warming does not mean that the physical world will somehow have changed, it means that the people at the Canadian are idiots.  The fact that an ice shelf in Antarctica collapsed earlier than one forecaster expected does not mean global warming is accelerating, it means the forecaster was wrong.

In fact, I can play this kind of game in exactly the opposite way in the energy field.  I can point out that economists like Krugman predicted that we were going to be out of oil (and food, etc) by 1980, then by 1985, and later by 1990, and by 2000, and by... now.  Does the fact of their continuing forecast errors on oil supply and demand tell us anything meaningful about oil markets, or does it tell us something about economists?  He practically begs for this counter-example by titling his article "limits to growth..." which hearkens back to the horribly wrong sky-is-falling forecasts in the 1970s by the likes of the Club of Rome and Paul Ehrlich. 

Advances in Energy

But his key statement is that progress on alternative energy technologies has consistently fallen below expectations?  Whose expectations?  Certainly not mine, or those of the knowledgeable energy industry insiders, who have been consistently pessimistic about most of these alternatives over the last decade or two.   Perhaps they have fallen below Krugman's or Greenpeace's expectations, but so what?

At this point, though it is embarrassing to have to point this out to a man who once was a real economist rather than a political hack, I must remind Mr. Krugman that since we are talking about substitutes for oil, then perhaps oil prices might have something to do with this "lack of progress."  Because, while we may tend to forget the fact over the last few years, for 20 of the last 25 years oil prices have been, on a real basis, near all-time lows.  They languished for decades at $20 or less, a price level that made the economics of substitutes impossible.  Nobody is going to put real money into substitutes when oil is at $16 or so.  Exxon, for example, had huge money invested in LaBarge, WY oil shale in the late 70's until decades of middling oil prices in the eighties and nineties forced them to pull the plug.  Ditto everyone and everything else, from shale oil to coal gasification.  And I can't even believe any sentient adult who lived through this period actually needs it pointed out to him that maybe there are non-technical reasons breeder nuclear reactors have not advanced much, like say the virtual shutdown of the nuclear business by environmentalists and local governments.

I will myself confess to being a bit surprised that solar efficiencies have not advanced very much, but again I remind myself that until the last few years, there was virtually no economic justification for working much with the technology. 

But all this masks another fact:  One of the reasons that these technologies have not advanced much is due to the absolutely staggering advances in oil exploration and production technology.  The last 35 years has seen a revolution, from computer reservoir modeling to horizontal drilling to ultra deep sea oil production to CO2 floods, it is in many ways a totally new industry.

Here is the way to decode what Mr. Krugman is saying:  It is not that the energy industry is not making huge technology gains, but that it is making gains in areas that Mr. Krugman did not expect, and, even more likely, it is not making its gains in the areas that Mr. Krugman wanted them to be.

Other technological advances

But Mr. Krugman did not stop there.  He could not resist throwing out a bit more red meat when he posits that all of our advances over the last 50 years in manipulating the material world have been disappointing.  Really?  Again, by what metric?  The revolution in computing alone has been staggering, and I feel like I could just say "Moore's Law" and leave my rebuttal at that.  Kevin Drum, oddly, suggests that Krugman means to say "besides computers" by using the "manipulate the physical world" wording.  If so, that is pretty hilarious.  Saying that "when you leave out computing and semiconductors, we haven't done much with technology over the last 50 years" is roughly equivalent to saying "leaving out the energy revolution and the application of steam power, there was not much progress in the early industrial revolution."   It's a stupid, meaningless distinction.  I am sure he would include a "car" in his definition of manipulating the physical world, but then how would you explain all those semiconductors under the hood?

But, that being said, I will take up the challenge.  Here are a number of technological revolutions besides computing and semiconductors over the last 50 years that clearly outstrip the previous 50:

  • Cost / Affordability Revolution.  One can argue that many of the technologies we enjoy today existed, at least in primitive form, in 1958.  But the vast majority of these items, from television to automobiles to air conditioning to long distance travel were playthings for the rich.  Over the last 50 years, we have found a way to revolutionize the cost and availability of all these items, such that most are available to everyone  (more on this below)
  • Reliability revolution.  In 1958, and even in 1968 and to a lesser extent in 1978, it was critical to have an address book full of good repair people.  Cars, televisions, home appliances, radios, air conditioners -- all were horrendously unreliable.  They could fail on you at any time, leaving you in an awkward or even dangerous spot, and repairs were common and expensive.  When I was a kid, we used to have a guy in our house at least twice a year fixing the TV -- when was the last time you saw a TV repair man?  I would argue that reliability (and this applies to industrial products as well) barely budged from 1908 to 1958, but has improved exponentially in the last 30-40 years.
  • Environmental and efficiency Revolution.  This one is no contest.  The environmental improvement -- in air quality, in water quality, in litter, in just about every category -- has shown substantially more improvement since 1958 than it did in the first half of the century.  This one is no contest
  • Safety revolution.  While there are ways in which this has gone too far, there is no denying that a huge amount of engineering over the last 50 years has gone into making products and services safer to use and operate.  And by the way, on the topic of flying cars (everyone likes to lament, "where is my flying car") could one not imagine that one reason we don't have flying cars is that anyone who is smart enough to design one is smart enough to know the government is never going to let people fly around willy-nilly, so maybe there is no mass market for them worth the investment and time?
  • Bio-medical revolution.  In less than 20 years from the time the world really recognized and understood the AIDS virus, science had a fairly good treatment for it.  And people complained it took too long!  Think of it -- a new, totally foreign virus that is extremely deadly appears nearly out of nowhere, and science cracks it in 2 decades.  No such ability existed before 1958.
  • Communications and Entertainment revolution.  1958:  Three US TV networks.  2008: 300 million people with the ability to broadcast their thoughts, their movies, their works of art to the world.  'nuff said.

In many ways, all of these thoughts come together if we look at a car.  Its easy to say that cars have not changed much - no wings yet!  But in fact, a car mechanic from 1909 would have a fighting chance to work on a 1958 engine.   No way a 1958 mechanic could make much progress with a 2008 internal combustion engine, much less a hybrid.  A car in 1958 was nearly as unsafe, and unreliable, and inefficient, and polluting, as a car in 1908.  Today, all of these have improved by orders of magnitude.  In addition, our cars have air conditioning and leather seats and hard-top convertible roofs and satellite radios and DVD players for the kids.  And mostly, the don't rattle like they used to after 6000 miles.

Material Life

But Krugman is still not done throwing out red meat, as he concludes that material life has not improved much over the last 50 years, and the answer is "obvious", to him at least, as to whether it has improved more in the last 50 years or the previous 50 years. 

Well, first I would observe that one should probably not trust people in data-based professions like economics who say that the answers to complicated questions are obvious without feeling the need to put any facts on the table.  By so positing, he looks extraordinarily lazy compared to folks like Steven Levitt who are out there trying to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable.

But the question is not at all obvious to me.  I suppose one could argue that the very rich have not seen much change in their material condition.  In 1958 they could jet around the world and had televisions and air conditioning and could afford the costs of unreliable products  (it does not matter so much if your car breaks down a lot if you can afford to have five or six cars).

But is strikes me that the material condition of the poor and middle class have improved markedly over the last 50 years.  As I mentioned before, there has been a revolution in the price and availability of what used to be luxury items:

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

  • Forty-three
    percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The
    average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau
    is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a
    porch or patio.

  • Eighty percent of poor households
    have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the
    entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

  • Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The
    average poor American has more living space than the average individual
    living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout
    Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
  • Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

What has not improved

To bring us back full circle, the one thing I would argue that definitely has not improved much is forecasting and modeling.  It appears from Krugman in this article (and form global warming modelers)  that orders of magnitude increases in computing power have improved neither the hubris of the modelers nor the quality of their forecasts.  I am sure I could as easily find someone in 1958, or even 1908, out there crying "My forecast is fine - its reality that's broken!"

OK, I am spent.  I am sure there is more that could be said on this, but I will leave the rest to you guys.

Modern Witch Trials

Kevin Drum, while sympathetic (as we all are) to the plight of parents of kids with autism, is obviously frustrated that a few people with no science behind them are causing kids to go un-vaccinated.  Both he and Megan McArdle suggest some reasons for this.  I added this in the comment section:

It all strikes me as part of the general rebellion against reason we see today, alas.

Last week in my class on the late Middle Ages, we learned about the
early origins of witchcraft denunciations. Most denunciations were
initiated by someone who had undergone a tragedy that seemed
inexplicable -- e.g. the death of a loved one due to disease or a crop
failure or, most commonly, the death of a child. It seems to be part of
human nature to seek out something or someone to blame, and in this case
people latched onto the least sympathetic, most marginalized people
around them (often widowed women) and accused them of witchcraft as the
cause for their tragedy.

The parallels, to me, are striking. I think many of the witchcraft accusers had the same
motivation with the Thimerosal crowd, with only the target changing (now drug companies are the
unsympathetic ones). The only real difference is that we have in fact
added a positive feedback to this point of human nature, by creating a
tort system dominated by sympathy over reason, which tends to pay off
on such wild accusations of witchcraft. 

Breast implant makers?  Burn them!  Vaccine manufacturers?   Burn them!  Obstetricians?  Burn them!

Phoenix Lights Return

Apparently, the Phoenix Lights may have returned last night:

Arizona Republic reporter Anne Ryman, who lives in Deer Valley,
reported seeing four lights in a square shape that eventually became a
triangular shape. The lights were moving to the east and they
disappeared one by one. She said the lights were visible for about 13
minutes at about 8 p.m...

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said
that air traffic controllers at Sky Harbor Airport also witnessed the
lights, but they do not know the cause.

The incident is similar to the "Phoenix Lights" seen on March 13, 1997.
Thousands of residents reported seeing a mile-wide, v-shaped formation
of lights over the Valley. In that case the lights appeared about 7:30
p.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m.

My friend Brink helpfully sent me an email this morning saying, "The UFOnauts are coming.  Watch out for anal probes."   Always good advice, I guess.

When Penguins Fly

I thought this was a pretty clever video the BBC came up with (on April 1?) to promote their video service. 

Thoughts for the Day

Happy Birthday Vladimer Lenin Earth Day.  I have a few thoughts for the day:

Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

Observe today how little of the discussion is about anything other than climate.  There are still many environmental issues in the world that can be improved by the application of man's effort and technology -- unfortunately, climate is the least of these but the issue getting the most attention.  Consider how the global warming panic has sucked the oxygen out of the environmental movement.  Ten years from now, I predict that true environmentalists will be looking back on the hysteria over trace amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere as a huge setback for real environmental progress.

Environmentalism and Socialism

If you attend any Earth Day events today, notice how many of the speeches and presentations and such are anti-corporate, anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-wealth screeds, and have little to do with the environment.  If you actually go to a live Earth Day event, you will see why the selection of Lenin's birthday was no accident.  You will not see this on the network news, because the media is sympathetic to the environmental movement and tends to edit the socialist rants out as PR protection for the environmentalists, knowing that American audiences would lose sympathy for them if they listened to the whole package. (This is mostly an American phenomenon - I have found from my brief travels in Europe that the media there does less such editing, perhaps because they know their audience is more comfortable with socialism).

The Climate Denier Trick

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried about "inaction" on global warming.  To justify the enormously expensive cuts in CO2 productions, on the order of 80% as supported by Obama and Clinton, one has to believe every element of a five-step logic chain:

  1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
  2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
  3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
  4. The increases in world temperatures due to man's CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
  5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

Climate alarmists have adopted a rhetorical trick that no one in the media seems willing to call them on.   They like to wage the debate over global warming policy on points one and two only, skipping over the rest.  Why?  Because the science behind numbers one and two are pretty strong.  Yes, there are a few folks who will battle them on these points, but even very strong skeptics like myself accept points one and two as proved. 

Here are some examples of how this trick works.  If, like me, you do not accept steps 3-4-5 in the above logic chain, you will be called a "denier."  When asked what a denier means, a climate alarmist will often position this denial as somehow disputing #1 and #2.  On the other hand, if one publicly accepts #1 and #2, the alarmist will shout "QED" and then proceed to say that strong action on CO2 is now justified.  When an alarmist says that the a consensus exists, he is probably correct on points 1 and 2.  But he is absolutely incorrect that a consensus exists on 3-4-5.

Don't believe me?  Think back to the early Republican debate, where the moderator asked for a show of hands whether [I can't remember the exact question] man was causing global warming.  The implication is that you either have to accept this whole logic chain or not.  One can see why Fred Thompson begged to have 90 seconds to explain his position, and why the moderator, presumably in the alarmist camp, denied it to him. 

Over the last year or two, skeptics have gotten a lot better at making their argument.  Most all of them, like I do, begin their arguments by laying out a logic chain like this and explaining why one can believe that man-made greenhouse gases cause warming without accepting the need for drastic climate action.  The result?  Alarmists have stopped debating, and/or have declared that the debate is "over."  Remember that last great Al Gore climate debate?  Neither do I.

The Single Best Reason Not To Be Worried About Climate

I could, and have, in my books and videos, made arguments on many points in 3-4-5 (links at the bottom of the post).  In four, no one ever considers the good effects of warming (e.g. on growing seasons and crop yields) and most every other problem is greatly exaggerated, from hurricane formation to sea level rises.  And in five, every time someone has tried to put a price on even small reductions in CO2, the numbers are so enormous that they are quickly suppressed by a environmentalist-sympathetic media.  Suffice it to say that even the climate-sanctimonious Europeans have not been willing to pay the price for even slowing down their CO2 growth (which has risen faster than in the US), much less reducing it.

But in this logic chain, there is little need to argue about four and five if #3 is wrong.  And it is.

The effects of CO2 acting alone on temperatures are quite small -- And everyone, even the alarmists, agree!  A doubling of CO2 concentrations, without other effects that we will discuss
in a moment, will heat the earth no more than about 1 degree Celsius (though several studies recently have argued the number is much less).  This is not some skeptic's hallucination -- this is
straight out of the IPCC third and fourth assessments [IPCC text quoted here].  In fact, the IPCC in their reports has steadily reduced their estimate of the direct contribution of CO2 on temperatures.  CO2, acting
alone, warms the Earth only slowly, and at this rate we would see less
than a degree of warming over the next century, more of a nuisance than
a catastrophe.

But some scientists do come up with catastrophic warming
forecasts.  They do so by assuming that our Earth's climate is
dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the initial warming from
CO2 by a factor of three, four, five or more.  This is a key point -- the
catastrophe does not come from the science of greenhouse gases, but
from separate hypotheses that the earth's climate is dominated by
positive feedback.
This is why saying that greenhouse gas
theory is "settled" is irrelevant to the argument about catastrophic
forecasts.  Because these positive feedbacks are NOT settled science.

In fact, the IPCC admits it does not even know the sign of
the most important effect (water vapor), much less its magnitude.  They
assume that the net effect is positive, and in fact strongly so - on the order of 60-80% feedback or more, nearly unprecedented numbers for a long-term stable physical system [more on feedback and its math here].  This is particularly ironic because alarmist Michael Mann, with his hockey stick, famously posited that temperatures over the last 1000 years were incredibly flat and stable until man started burning fossil fuels, a proposition that is hard to believe if the climate is dominated by strong positive feedback.   Note that when people like Al Gore say things like "tipping point," they are in effect hypothesizing that feedback is greater than 100%, meaning that climate can be a runaway process, like nuclear fission.

In fact, with the 100 or so years of measurements we have for temperature and CO2, empirical evidence does not support these high positive feedbacks.
Even if we assign all the 20th century warming to CO2, which is
unlikely, our current warming rates imply close to zero feedback.  If
there are other causes for measured 20th century warming other than
CO2, thereby reducing the warming we blame on CO2, then the last
century's experience implies negative rather than positive feedback in
the system.  As a result, it should not be surprising that high
feedback-driven forecasts from the 1990 IPCC reports have proven to be
way too high vs. actual experience (something the IPCC has since
admitted).

However, climate scientists are unwilling to back down from the thin
branch they have crawled out on.  Rather than reduce their feedback
assumptions to non-catastrophic levels, they currently hypothesize a
second man-made cooling effect that is masking all this feedback-driven
warming.  They claim now that man-made sulfate aerosols and black
carbon are cooling the earth, and when some day these pollutants are
reduced, we will see huge catch-up warming.  If anything, this cooling
effect is even less understood than feedback.  What we do know is that,
unlike CO2, the effects of these aerosols are short-lived and therefore
localized, making it unlikely they are providing sufficient masking to
make catastrophic forecasts viable.  I go into several reality checks
in my videos, but here is a quick one:  Nearly all the man-made cooling
aerosols are in the northern hemisphere, meaning that most all the
cooling effect should be there -- but the northern hemisphere has
actually exhibited most of the world's warming over the past 30 years,
while the south has hardly warmed at all.

In sum, to believe catastrophic warming forecasts, one has to believe both of the following:

  1. The climate is dominated by strong positive feedback, despite
    our experience with other stable systems that says this is unlikely and
    despite our measurements over the last 100 years that have seen no such
    feedback levels.
  2. Substantial warming, of 1C or more, is being masked by aerosols,
    despite the fact that aerosols really only have strong presence over
    5-10% of the globe and despite the fact that the cooler part of the
    world has been the one without the aerosols.

Here's what this means:  Man will cause, at most, about a degree of
warming over the next century.  Most of this warming will be
concentrated in raising minimum temperatures at night rather than
maximum daytime temperatures  (this is why, despite some measured
average warming, the US has not seen an increase of late in maximum
temperature records set
).  There are many reasons to believe that man's
actual effect will be less than 1 degree, and that whatever effect we
do have will be lost in the natural cyclical variations the climate
experiences, but we are only just now starting to understand.

To keep this relatively short, I have left out all the numbers and
such.  To see the graphs and numbers and sources, check out my new climate video, or my longer original video, or download my book for free.

Update: Very relevant article by Roy Spencer on the over-estimation of feedback in climate models.

Many of us, especially those who were trained as meteorologists,
have long questioned the climate research community's reliance on
computerized climate models for global warming projections.  In
contrast to our perception that the real climate system is constantly
readjusting to internal fluctuations in ways that stabilize the system,
climate models built upon measured climate behavior invariably suggest
a climate system that is quite sensitive - sometimes catastrophically
sensitive "” to perturbations such as those from anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult to
articulate our "˜hand-waving' concerns in ways that the modelers would
appreciate, i.e., through equations.   

After years of pondering this issue, and after working on our two
latest papers on feedbacks (Spencer et al., 2007; Spencer and Braswell,
2008, hereafter SB08), I believe that I can now explain the main reason
for this dichotomy.   Taking the example of clouds in the climate
system, the issue can be introduced in the form of a question:

To what extent are climatic variations in
clouds caused by temperature change (feedback), versus temperature
change being the result of cloud variations? 

City Branding

This is the kind of local government silliness that really drives me up a tree.  The town of Peoria, Arizona (Peoria is basically a suburb of Glendale which in turn is a suburb of Phoenix) apparently has paid $81,000 for a new town logo:

Peoria's new tagline, "Naturally Connected," came under attack this week.

The city is working on establishing a brand name to better market itself.

"Naturally connected?" resident Dolores Ceballos said at Tuesday's City
Council meeting. "I'm still trying to feel it here. I can't find it.


"Nine years ago, I moved here, not because of a logo. I came for the downtown and for the schools."

Ceballos questioned the city's expenditure of taxpayer dollars for such an endeavor.

Peoria has paid $81,000 to North Star Destinations Strategies in
Tennessee, which developed the tagline and new logo that features the
city's name with swirling lines and Southwestern colors of blue, green and brown.

But what the Republic misses, but those of us with any business experience understand, the logo development, overpriced as it may be, is only a fraction of the branding effort.  The town is going to have to spend 10x this amount to start pushing the logo and the craptacular "naturally connected" tagline into peoples' faces. 

Corsette said that because the tagline and logo are not in use yet, it's hard for people to feel a connection.

"It's not surprising people don't get it," he said. "Once we start
using it in context of everything the city does, it will resonate with
people and take on some meaning and it will be a positive thing for us."

An important component to the draft manual is the education of the public and city employees, he said.

Can't wait to see the time and effort on the manual and training effort that will go into educating public employees on how to use the logo.

My New Favorite Audio Device

About two years ago I made the time investment to rip all my CD's to digital  (this was a real death-march, at 20 CDs a night for a month).  In doing so, I actually ripped every one of them twice:  once into a small, variable bit-rate MP3 file for my iPod, and a second time into a much larger FLAC digital file  (this is an open-source lossless compression format).  All the FLAC files sit on an old computer on my network that does nothing but act as a file server for these music files.

Now, having lots of nice, high quality digital files, the trick is to play them through my home audio system.  My first solution was an iPod dock on my home audio system, but I found this awkward.  Next, I added a Squeezebox from SlimDevices, a small inexpensive box that hangs on the network that basically takes the digital files off the network and puts then in an analog or digital signal my stereo system knows what to do with.    SlimDevices has always been a favorite among audiophiles, because of their open-source approach and their willingness to continue to improve their product with user feedback.  And, they are pretty reasonably priced.

Both of these solutions suffered from one problem.  My living room is fairly large, and while each system had a remote, the menu screen I was navigating was way over there, either on the small iPod screen or on the larger squeezebox screen.  Either way, I still did not like the ergonomics.

In their new version of the Squeezebox
, Slimdevices has come out with what I consider the near perfect streaming audio device.  The product consists two pieces.  First, the audio device, which is pretty small, that hangs on the network (either by cable or wireless) and does the same job as the old boxes I had, converting digital music files to a format my music equipment can handle.  The key area of improvement is in the remote control.   The remote communicates with your wireless network, and allows one to scroll through his whole music collection right on the remote in an interface nearly identical to the iPod, including album cover art if one so chooses. (click for larger view)

Duet_hero_500_2

 

I have had this new Squeezebox for over a month now, and I love it.  For those of you with a lot of CDs, like I have, it is just amazing how much more I listen to my music collection with this setup.  In the old world of shuffling through CD cases in a rack, I would tend to get the same five or six in a rotation.  Now, I listen to much more.  The remote also has a headphone jack so it can operate like a portable music player  (as long as it is in range of your wireless network).

By the way, I know there are devices like this that are all-in-one, meaning that they have their own hard drive so you don't need to network it to a computer.  I find those boxes to be a) way expensive and b) difficult to upgrade.  The cost of a cheap computer (it does not need much of a processor to just serve digital files up to the network) with a good size hard drive is cheap, and is the perfect use for an old computer you have upgraded.  The only real flaw of this device is its inability to do video, but SlimDevices has always focused on audio and will probably stay that way.