Archive for January 2010

Show Trial

I would rather not have a trial of KSM than have the show trial it is shaping up to be.  I didn't think anything could be more offensive to human rights than indefinite detention without due process but this may be worse.

SEC Climate Disclosures

From the SEC web site (via frequent contributor LK)

The Securities and Exchange Commission today voted to provide public companies with interpretive guidance on existing SEC disclosure requirements as they apply to business or legal developments relating to the issue of climate change.

I haven't seen anyone explain the reason for this requirement, so I thought I would do so.  Companies know that no real investor is going to pay any attention to these climate disclosures, so to avoid any future action accusing them of not being forthcoming enough, companies are going to go overboard outlining potential risks far beyond what they think is likely.  These exaggerations will protect them from the SEC while at the same time having no effect on their stock price.  Then, alarmists will collate all of these and use them as evidence of the high cost of climate change, saying "see, look at what all these public companies are saying climte change will do to them."  Lacking any evidence of harmful climate change in the actual climate or economy, this is one way to manufacture fake evidence.

By the way, here is the diclosure every oil company should put in their reports:

Notice:  Poplist politicians are very likely to demagogue this company for a wide-range of imagined crimes in an attempt to get re-elected, including crimes against the climate in various forms.   Politicians will attempt to preferentially saddle this company with new taxes and regulations given that this company is not liked by many voters (despite the fact that many of these voters freelydo business with this company).  Politicians will likely continue to try to sieze portions of this company's earnings, despite the fact that those earnings are relatively low given the magnitude of the our investments and the amount of value we add.

On What Freaking Basis?

Tampa Rail writes (hat tip to a reader):

The new Phoenix light rail system is emerging as one of the most successful new systems in the country.  This is especially poignant for Tampa because in scale, project scope, and demographics, Phoenix represents the apogee of operating examples.

Over the course of its first year the system has received high marks in community integration, stunning ridership figures, and respectful financial constraint (making tough decisions on long-term planning that do not inhibit the value of its starter-line status today).  This is exactly what Hillsborough County is shooting for in its own implementation.  A perfect balance of conservative control and benchmarking combined with progressive action and democratic freedom, the latter which may finally come to Hillsborough County in the form of a referendum.  That all good stuff was achieved by such a strikingly similar auto-depenent culture is a great omen.  A starter light rail system can be championed by civic conservatives (Mark Sharpe), and civic progressives (Ed Turanchik) to great outcome....

Both pieces I link to here embarass anti-rail or anti-tax groups who are, as the Phoenix article notes, "muted" if not definetively silenced.  Their arguments against community investement were loud, often intelligent (once one bought into the ideological premise that rail systems must 'pay for themselves' and that community investement is somehow inherently evil - points not firmly established by any means among rationale individuals), and grossly atypical.  I will forever hype on how mechanical, unchanging, and how pre-web these attacks were formulated.

Ooh, how can I overcome my embarrassment?  Look, I don't think I have ever argued that Phoenix Light Rail was run poorly or didn't have pretty trains.   And I don't know if moving 18,000 round trip riders a day in a metropolitan area of 4.3 million people is a lot or a little (though 0.4% looks small to me, that is probably just my "pre-web" thinking, whatever the hell that is).

The problem is that it is freaking expensive, so it is a beautiful toy as long as one is not paying for it.  Specifically, it's capital costs are $75,000 per daily round trip rider, and every proposed addition is slated to be worse on this metric (meaning the law of diminishing returns dominates network effects, which is not surprising in this least dense of all American cities).

Already, like in Portland and San Francisco, the inflexibility of servicing this capital cost (it never goes away, even in recessions) is causing the city to give up bus service, the exact effect that caused rail to reduce rather than increase transit's total share of commuters in that wet dream of all rail planners, Portland.  Soon, we will have figures for net operating loss and energy use, but expect them to be disappointing, as they have in every other city (and early returns were that fares were covering less than 25% of operating costs).

PS- I get a lot of comments that I have some weird anti-train bias.  Actually, I have an n-scale model railroad in one room of my house, and spent a lot of my teenage years traveling along rural rail lines and photographing trains.  I love trains.  I just don't like stupid investments.

PPS- I was just thinking, on the basis the Tampa writer declares the building of Phoenix Light Rail a raving success, I could say the same thing about buying a super-size 100" flat screen TV for $50,000.  It is beautiful.  Everyone who sees it will love it.  It works flawlessly.  Lots of people will be able to enjoy it at one time.  In fact, it is the greatest, most sensible and successful purchase of all time as long as you never mention the cost.  Which is, by the way, why only one person I have ever met has one (I happened to be at a Reason reception the other night and the homeowner had such a beauty on his living room wall).

Update: I try to anticipate every argument in these posts.  The one other argument is that rails takes congestion off roads.  But for most of its length, Phoenix light rail displaced one lane of road in each direction.  These lanes had a capacity as large or larger than what Phoenix light rail carries.  The were also much cheaper to build.  I must say I liked my quote from that post

If running trains requires, as you suggest, draining resources from millions of people just to move thousands, how is it sustainable?

Economic Stimulus

If Obama really wanted to get small businesses to start investing again, he could announce that both cap-and-trade and the health care bill are dead-dead and will not be disinterred this year.   These two bills affect nearly 2/3 of our company's cost structure.  Since we have single digit margins, small changes in the wage and fuel cost lines can completely wipe out our profits.  Not knowing what 2/3 of our costs were going to look like into the future, we have been sitting on our hands.

Unfortunately, this may not be enough.  The third leg of the uncertainty stool is income taxes, and its seems likely that some huge increase almost has to be forthcoming given Congress's predilection for taxes and marked unwillingness to cut spending in any meaningful way.

Here is a very specific example.  We have an opportunity to invest about a half million dollars in a new operation in Texas.  Financing is available.  But in my evaluation spreadsheet, small changes in income tax rates combine with a potential 8% health care tax on wages and an unknown fuel tax increase to move the net present value by enormous amounts.  I am not going to risk a half million dollars on a 20-year investment when the government is considering so much legislation that will arbitrarily move the value of this investment.

This is why Obama's offer of small business financing is meaningless.   In the last decade, government sponsored cheap money lured people into housing "investments" that eventually went upside down.   Are they now luring small businesses into a new trap, encouraging them to take on debt, only to slam the door on them with future increases to their operating costs and taxes?

Conflict of Interest?

I don't know any of the facts of the Toyota recall, so I don't know how pressing the sudden acceleration problems are.  But I found it an interesting conflict of interest that the recall was pressed on Toyota by their competitor:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told WGN Radio in Chicago that the government pressed the company to stop building vehicles linked to the massive recall. LaHood said "the reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to."

The US Government, of course, owns a controlling interest of Toyota competitor GM.  One GM dealer had this comment

"Every dog has its day," said Jerry Seiner, who has a group of General Motors and dealers of other brands around Salt Lake City. "Maybe they'll take a second look at us instead of Toyota. . . . When Toyota stumbles, it's our opportunity."

Links Fixed on Climate Presentation

I fixed the links on the powerpoint and pdf dowloads in this post.  Here are the correct links:

Powerpoint presentation with notes pages (.ppt)

Adobe Acrobat .pdf file

The video links are still here.

Catastrophe Denied: The Science of the Skeptic's Position

Once upon a time, Al Gore had a PowerPoint deck. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that Gore's presentation was deeply flawed, so I made my own PowerPoint deck in response, and have been updating it ever since. Here is the most recent version (UPDATE: Links Fixed)

Powerpoint presentation with notes pages (.ppt)

Adobe Acrobat .pdf file

Then, Al Gore made a movie from his PowerPoint deck. He won an Oscar and a Nobel prize for his movie. Those are a bit out of my reach, so I will have to settle for actually being right. My previous movie showed my PowerPoint deck presented to a live audience, and can still be found online here. I felt the sound quality could be improved and the narration could be tighter, so I went into the "studio" to create a tighter version. The product of this is what I believe to be my best effort yet at explaining, in a comprehensive but simple manner, the science of the skeptic's position to laymen.

I have become a big fan of Vimeo because I don't have to break videos up into 10-minute chunks as on YouTube. The Vimeo version is here and is embedded below:

Other Viewing Options

When I get the time to break this into 9(!) parts, I will post a link here to YouTube.

You can download the 212MB .wmv file here (link on the lower right). Alternatively, it can also be found here. The .wmv is also available via BitTorrent: You can find its page at Pirate Bay or the torrent directly here.

Download the .iso file (DVD disk image) to make you own playable DVD here (beware: 1.6GB). A free tool to burn the DVD from the image is ImgBurn

The .iso file is also available via BitTorrent: you can find its page at Pirate Bay with the torrent here.

Finally, you can buy the DVD at cost, here, for $7.50 plus shipping.

How Is This Different From Citizens United

The Washington Post writes, and Paul Cassell agrees, that the Administration screwed up by treating Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) as a regular criminal, and should have considered some sort of administrative detention instead.

The analysis seems spot on to me.  I can't for the life of me figure out why as a society we would want to give Miranda warnings to such a high-value suspect like Abdulmutallab.  While there is debate about the extent to which Miranda warnings reduce the overall confession rate (I think it is significant, while others disagree), surely we can all agree that in the context of Abdulmutallab's interrogation such warning were not going to be helpful in obtaining information about, for example, where he trained and what other attacks might be planned.

Uh, OK, but the law of the land is to give arrested criminals on US soil Miranda warnings and an attorney.  What legislative authority (I think we are supposed to be a nation of laws) exists to do otherwise?  And if such a law did exist, what would the bright-line rule be that should be written in law so real human beings making arrests know when it is OK and when it is not to kidnap someone to Gitmo?  I have struggled to find anyone who can write such a rule -- it always comes out sounding like the old definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it."  Remember, the Patriot Act was used far more for drug and child porn cases than it ever has been for terrorism -- it is very, very hard to circumscribe new police powers, particularly when police so desperately want to keep and hold those powers.

I don't deny from a utilitarian point of view that being able to grab people off the street and lock them up without trial forever might prevent some terrorism, but wasn't it Conservatives, just the other day, that were arguing re: Citizens United that Constitutional protections can't be waived for utilitarian reasons?  I agreed with them then, what changed here?

U.S. v. One 1987 Jeep Wrangler

If you want to be depressed today, read Radley Balko's article in Reason on asset forfeiture.   Despite reforms at the Federal level (which still stop short of justice, in my mind) abusive laws still exist in many states, allowing police departments to seize and keep assets merely on a "probable cause" evidence standard.  The laws are basically a license to steal, as it is almost impossible to reclaim money or property once seized, and police get to keep the money and assets for their own use, so they are going to defend the takings, and the laws that allow the takings, like mother bears.

In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, the University of Texas at Dallas criminologist John Worral surveyed 1,400 police departments around the country on their use of forfeiture and the way they incorporated seized assets into their budgets. Worral, who describes himself as agnostic on the issue, concluded that "a substantial proportion of law enforcement agencies are dependent on civil asset forfeiture" and that "forfeiture is coming to be viewed not only as a budgetary supplement, but as a necessary source of income." Almost half of surveyed police departments with more than 100 law enforcement personnel said forfeiture proceeds were "necessary as a budget supplement" for department operations.

Many may remember this case, one of the many Balko reviews:

Tiny Tenaha, Texas, population 1,046, made national news in 2008 after a series of reports alleged that the town's police force was targeting black and Latino motorists along Highway 84, a busy regional artery that connects Houston to Louisiana's casinos, ensuring a reliable harvest of cash-heavy motorists. The Chicago Tribune reported that in just the three years between 2006 and 2008, Tenaha police stopped 140 drivers and asked them to sign waivers agreeing to hand over their cash, cars, jewelry, and other property to avoid arrest and prosecution on drug charges. If the drivers agreed, police took their property and waved them down the highway. If they refused, even innocent motorists faced months of legal hassles and thousands of dollars in attorney fees, usually amounting to far more than the value of the amount seized. One local attorney found court records of 200 cases in which Tenaha police had seized assets from drivers; only 50 were ever criminally charged.

One case seems right out of Minority Report:

On February 4, 2009, Anthony Smelley got his first hearing before an Indiana judge. Smelley's attorney, David Kenninger, filed a motion asking for summary judgment against the county, citing a letter from a Detroit law firm stating that the seized money indeed came from an accident settlement, not a drug transaction. Kenninger also argued that because there were no drugs in Smelley's car, the state had failed to show the required "nexus" between the cash and illegal activity. Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley seemed to agree, hitting Christopher Gambill, who represented Putnam County, with some tough questions. That's when Gambill made an argument that was remarkable even for a forfeiture case.

"You have not alleged that this person was dealing in drugs, right?" Judge Headley said.

"No," Gambill responded. "We alleged this money was being transported for the purpose of being used to be involved in a drug transaction."

Incredibly, Gambill was arguing that the county could seize Smelley's money for a crime that hadn't yet been committed. Asked in a phone interview to clarify, Gambill stands by the general principle. "I can't respond specifically to that case," he says, "but yes, under the state forfeiture statute, we can seize money if we can show that it was intended for use in a drug transaction at a later date."

I Thought I Was The Only Curmudgeon Who Obsessed Over This

Via TJIC, I meet this guy on every long distance trip.

Apparently, there are some people who: A) Cannot judge their own speed except in relation to the vehicle directly in front of them, and B) Cannot hold a steady pedal for love nor money. So there we'll be, in the agrarian hinterlands of Indiana or Kentucky; me rolling along in the left lane and passing the occasional car on the right when I notice Mr. Wobbly Throttle a'creepin' up in my mirrors. When he gets close enough I'll signal right and let him pass, which he does, after a fashion, but sort of bogs down once he's just off the port bow. We'll roll in formation like that, me starting to fume, until we come upon a car in the right lane that forces me to turn off the cruise and tuck in behind Wobbly.

As we pass the slower traffic, Mr. Wobbly Throttle, now bereft of vehicles to overtake, starts to slow down. He notices me in his mirror and sometimes darts right, sometimes slows down further and gets passed on the right (traffic gods, forgive me!) I'll hit "Resume" on the cruise control in the left lane, but a mile down the road, sure as God made little green apples, here comes Wobbly again, as though drawn to a magnet in my back bumper. This dance can go on for over a hundred miles, and is pretty well guaranteed to have me chewing the steering wheel in frustration in only a fraction of that distance. For Vishnu's sake, man, pick a speed and hold it!

OMG, Best Thing I Have Seen For A While

Mixed Decision on Government Subidies, Mostly Good News

Unfortunately:

The Arizona Supreme Court today unanimously reversed an appellate court ruling on the CityNorth case, saying it erred when it deemed the city of Phoenix's $97 million subsidy of the shopping center unconstitutional.

I discussed this in great depth in a series of posts, including this one.  The purpose of the subsidy was to try to get Nordstrom's to move their planned store about 1 mile from a development planned in Scottsdale over the line to a development planned in Phoenix  (the public cover story was to provide parking for a park and ride).

Fortunately, the ruling seems to be more procedural than anything else, and seems to slam the door in the face of similar private subsidies in the future:

Indeed, in today's unanimous decision, penned by Chief Justice Andrew D. Hurwitz, the five Supreme Court judges say that indirect public benefits -- like, apparently, beating out Scottsdale for the sale tax from Bloomingdales -- aren't enough to justify a giveaway to a private party.

Previous courts who've held that, they say, have misread precedent.

"In short, although neither [of two Supreme Court precedents] held that indirect benefits enjoyed by a public agency as a result of buying something from a private entity constitute consideration, we understand how that notion might have been mistakenly inferred from language in our opinions," they say. Now that they've clarified, the justices seem to be saying, the appellate court must examine whether the direct benefit the city of Phoenix gets -- aka. those parking spaces -- is enough to justify the giveaway.

For the record, the Supreme Court suggests that the parking garage is not, likely, benefit enough to justify such a tax giveaway.

"We find it difficult to believe that the 3,180 parking places have a value anywhere near the payment potentially required under the Agreement," its opinion finds. "The Agreement therefore quite likely violates the Gift Clause."

Kudos to the Goldwater Institute for continuing to push this issue.

Things That Are Ticking Me Off Today

Overscan.  Yes, I just lost a day of my time to overscan.  Traditional TV sets do not show the entire image they receive from broadcast or DVDs.  They cut off 8-15% of the image around the edges.  This is to make sure there is not black or other border around the image, much like one does in a printing process.  This is fine for an Avatar DVD where one might lose a few leaves in the jungle at the edge, but when I am projecting charts in one of my climate videos, it tends to cut off axes  (when one is working with only 480 vertical pixels (traditional DVD resolutions) it is hard to get detailed charts to project well anyway, but losing resolution to overscan is a further pain.  Making the situation more complicated, DVD's played on a computer or on some (but not all) modern flat screens do have have overscan.

Anyway, I am mostly done, and will post my latest effort here soon.

Exxon is Not the Audubon Society

Kevin Drum writes a post that I would interpret as saying "I really can't dispute the Supreme Court speech decision on principles but I am going to anyway because I don't like the result.  He ends by saying

In the end, I guess I think the court missed the obvious "” and right "” decision: recognizing that while nonprofit corporations created for the purpose of political advocacy can be fairly described as "organized groups of people" and treated as such, that doesn't require us to be willfully oblivious to the fact that big public companies are far more than that and can be treated differently. Exxon is not the Audubon Society and Google is not the NRA. There's no reason we have to pretend otherwise.

This is silly.  Just because people are not organized primarily as an influence group does not mean that those folks, once they are pursuing their goals, don't find the need to try to have influence, or have somehow given up their right to try to have influence.  And whose fault is this anyway if Exxon shareholders feel the need to influence the political process?  If the Left hadn't targeted commerce with a never-ending proliferation of restrictions and wealth-confiscations, commercial enterprises probably would not see much reason to waste money on advocacy.  I can tell you that the last possible thing I want to spend money on in my company is kissing some Senator's ass or buffing up the NY Times ad budget, and would spend money to do so only under a pretty existential threat.

But why is there some mythology that members of Audubon or the NRA somehow have more control of the organization's advocacy than Exxon's shareholders?  Sure, when you join the NRA you probably have a good idea what their positions are going to be, but are you really any less able to predict Exxon's positions on most issues?  As I wrote in his comment section:

When you say "Exxon is not the Audubon society," I am not sure how? I am a stockholder of the first and a member of and contributor to the second. I have bought products from both. I have written both (well, actually I wrote Mobil once but it is the same now as Exxon) about their issue advocacy, each time with equally small effect. It is as difficult as a stockholder of Exxon to even get a disclosure of their issue advocacy and lobbying efforts as it is for Audubon (though I am smart enough to take a pretty good guess at both). Neither allows me, as a shareholder/member/contributor to vote on their advocacy/lobbying, either in terms of amount spent or direction. Each carry substantial influence in particular government realms.

So I am confused how they are different, except perhaps that you are personally sympathetic to one and not the other.

Just to remind you the existential threat that causes corporations to want to speak out in public, I will take an example from Drum himself, when he said:

It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

So I guess Exxon is indeed different from the Audubon Society - no one is trying to gut the Audubon Society like trouts.

Good News / Bad News

Good news:  The nation's mayors spill the beans on what most of us already knew about the Obama stimulus:

About 80 percent of stimulus money has gone directly to state governments, they say. Instead of being used to create new jobs, the bulk of the money has been used to save existing state government jobs -- teachers, law enforcement and others -- and for shoring up sagging state budgets.

Bad news:  Mayors are not ticked off about the propping up of governments, they are just ticked off that their own local government budgets weren't propped up as well.

If more money would flow directly to cities, the mayors' group contends, it could be used for local improvement projects that would create more jobs.

Really?  I don't see the incentives of city government leaders to be anything different than that of state government leaders.  My guess is the money at the city level will be used exactly the same way as it was at the state level.

State-Created Entities

One aspect of the recent debate about the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision that really irritates me is the notion, propounded by the NY Times among others, that corporations and the individuals assembled in them do not have free speech rights because corporations are "state-created entities."

This is wildly untrue, or alternatively, if you accept the logic, then nearly every aspect of our lives is state-created.  Take your pick.  Basically, the argument is that because the government has set the rules for corporate incorporation, and that these incorporations require state approval, that makes corporate entities "state-created."  But corporations are nothing more than a structure by which people can assemble and aggregate their capital and share ownership of an enterprise that employs that capital.  If government incorporation law did not exist, individuals still would have the incentive to assemble in some sort of entity.

I don't know of anything in the corporate structure that could not be duplicated with contract terms.  People point to the liability limitation as some sort of government gift to the corporate world, but that could easily be written in to every contract of, say, a partnership  (certain torts are an exception I would have to think about).  Vendors might choose not to accept such contracts, preferring to be able to pierce the partnership to go after individual owners to settle debts, but that choice exists today.  I have many, many vendor contracts in my corporation, and nearly all of my bank loans, that require the personal guarantee of all the owners, effectively waiving the liability limitation for those transactions.

My point, though, is that corporate forms have evolved as they are because that is what the sum of investors and business people were working towards on their own, and government merely enshrined these forms into law.  In fact, this basic rules-setting of the contracts playing field is one of the few arguably useful things government has done.  If we allow government rules-setting over certain activities to be the test of whether it can further restrict our Constitutional rights, then nearly every aspect of our lives would be subject to such restrictions.

At its heart, this is the classic "heads I win, tails you lose" argument of statists.  They claim that individuals must petition the state to register their corporation and license their business, and then use the fact of these required registrations to argue that the business is a "state-created entity" and that individuals give up their ability to exercise their rights when assembled into these entities.  By the same logic, the fact that every commercial transaction is subject to license and taxation by the state would make our every transaction a "government-created exchange."  Think I am exaggerating?  Just look at this from our Arizona state web site:

The Arizona transaction privilege tax is commonly referred to as a sales tax; however, the tax is on the privilege of doing business in Arizona and is not a true sales tax. Although the transaction privilege tax is usually passed on to the consumer, it is actually a tax on the vendor.

Rights, like the ability of free exchange between individuals, supposedly can't be revoked, but privileges can.   Thus the name.   For folks who treasure individual liberty, we have already lost the battle when we allow the state this kind of language.

Anyway, I feel like I am having a failure of eloquence over this issue.  Ilya Somin got me started thinking about these issues, so I will turn it over to him here.

Third, it's important to consider what is meant by "state-created entity." If the term refers only to institutions that literally would not exist absent state authorization, it does not accurately characterize many, perhaps most corporations. If the federal government passed a statute abolishing corporate status tomorrow, most actual corporations would still exist and still continue to engage in the same business or nonprofit activities. They just would do so under different and perhaps less efficient legal rules (maybe as LLCs, partnerships, or sole proprietorships). But they wouldn't all just collapse or go away. There would still be a demand for most of the products produced by corporations.

If "state-created entity" doesn't refer to the mere existence of organizations currently defined as corporations but to the particular bundle of legal rights currently attached to the corporate form, then it turns out that virtually all other organizations are state-created entities as well. Universities, schools, charities, churches, political parties, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and many other private organizations all have official definitions under state and federal law. And all have special government-created privileges and obligations that don't apply to other types of organizations.

Even individual citizens might be considered "state-created" entities under this logic. After all, the status of "citizen" is a government-created legal entitlement that carries various rights and privileges, many of which the government could alter by legislation, just as it can with those of corporations (e.g. "” the right to receive Social Security benefits, which the Supreme Court has ruled can be altered by legislation any time Congress wants). In that sense, "citizens" are no less "state-created" entities than corporations are.

By the way, in case I was not careful with my language, I offer the same proviso as does Somin:

I should clarify that in this post, as before, I'm not arguing that corporations themselves are "persons" with constitutional rights. Rather, I'm asserting that their owners and employees are such persons and that that status enables them to use corporations to exercise their constitutional rights. Similarly, partnerships, universities, schools, and sole proprietorships aren't people either. But people can use them to exercise their constitutional rights, and the government can't forbid it on the sole ground that they are using assets assets assigned to "state-created entities." This distinction was unfortunately obscured in the current post by my shorthand references to "corporations'" rights. I only used that terminology because it's cumbersome to always write something like "people exercising their constitutional rights through corporations."

In Search of Skepticism

PHP4B5A1EED0E9E1Why can't our newspaper here in Arizona apply any skepticism to alternate energy technologies?  Sure, I think this technology is cool, where large solar dishes concentrate heat on what appears to be Stirling cycle engines  (the article, true to form, does not explain the technology, but a few hints plus the name of the company "Stirling Energy Systems" seems to point to that answer).  Other concentrator technologies focus on boiling water, so this a new approach to me.

However, why can't the article actually address real issues, like "how does this technology stack up, based on cost and efficiency, vs. other solar technologies."  It says it uses less water than other concentrator technologies, but is it more or less efficient?  No answer.

We can figure a few things out.  First, as with many "renewable" energy technologies, the company selling it engages in nameplate capacity abuse.  A 1MW coal plant produces 1MW all day long.  A 1MW wind plant produces 1MW when the wind is blowing hard, and less at other times.  And a solar plant produces 1MW when the sun is at its peak.   We can address this latter because folks have calculated sun equivalent hours, the number equivalent max sun-hours per day a site gets through the year.  For the best desert sites in the US, this number is around 6.  This means that the actual capacity of this plant is not 1.5MW, as stated in the article, but about a fourth of that, or  0.375MW.

This matters for a couple of reasons.  They state their build cost as $2.8 million per MW, which seems competitive to coal plants which cost $1.0-2.0 per MW, but in fact the reference number for this solar based on an apples to apples capacity comparison is actually  $11.2 million per MW.   The solar plant gets some credit for having no fuel costs, so it might be possible still for its power to be competitive, but it appears form the limited information in the article that it is not:

Singleton would not disclose what SRP will pay for the electricity, but said the utility will pay a premium for the environmental benefits of the power, and that the price is competitive with other sustainable-energy sources such as wind and geothermal power.

In other words, it is not competitive, so much so that they will not even reveal the price, and only subsidies and government mandates make it possible for a power company to buy the power.

Let's do a reality check.  At best, they get 8 dishes per acre, and 25Kw per dish at max sun.  So this is 8 x 25 x 6/24 = 50Kw per acre.   Lets say we want to get rid of coal.  The US generating capacity of coal plants is about 336,000 MW, or 336,000,000 KW.  To replace it with this solar technology would require 6,720,000 acres (10,500 sq miles or 10% of the state of Arizona) and cost $3.76 trillion dollars if located in the best possible solar areas.   This is not cheap but is not awful.

If I am doing the math right, I get something like $70,000 per dish   (1 dish = 25Kw, $2.8 million per MW).  I would think there are a lot of rich folks with some acreage that would pay $70,000 for one of these bad boys.  It would look much cooler than solar panels on the roof.

Lots of Snow

Its almost like Utah up in Northern Arizona at our snow play area.  Many feet of new snow this week, probably more than we had all last year combined.  Below is Mike, the manager of our snow play area, who does a fabulous job.

wing 9 008

Further Thoughts on Corporate Speech

The reaction by the left to the Supreme Court decision yesterday overturning speech limitations on corporations seems tremendously hypocritical.  No one seems to complain on the left when certain groups/corporations (call them "assembly of individuals") get special access to the government and policy making.  Jeffrey Immelt and GE, Goldman Sachs, the SEIU, and the UAW all get special direct access to shape legislation in ways that may give special privileges to their organization -- access I and my company will never have.

Deneen Borelli wrote, in response to Keith Olberman's fevered denunciations of free speech for corporations

"It also seems as if the pot is calling the kettle black. MSNBC is currently owned by General Electric. GE Capital was bailed out by the taxpayers. GE CEO Jeff Immelt is a close advisor to President Obama, and GE would profit from Obama policies such as cap-and-trade. Olbermann has served as a cheerleader for all of this. Are Immelt and Olbermann simply afraid to allow others to possibly gain the attention and influence GE has had all along?"

Here is an example -- has the health care bill considered my company's situation, where we have 400 seasonal workers, almost all of whom are over 70 and on Medicare already?  How, in these circumstances, do we offer health care plans?  Are we relieved of the penalty for not offering a plan if they are on Medicare or a retirement health plan already?  The legislation does not address these issues (see Hayek) and I am sure numerous others, but I will never be able to cut a special deal for my workers or my industry as GE or the UAW have.

Further, corporate paid speech is alive and well in this administration, you and I just can't see it.  Lobbyists are all having record, banner, unbelievable revenues, in large part because the government is putting such a large chunk of the economy in play for forced redistribution and everyone who can afford it is paying to influence the process.

But nothing in any of the good government reforms have (rightly) ever put any kind of restrictions on this kind of speech directly to legislators.  The only speech they limit is speech to the public at large.  In effect, McCain-Feingold said that it is just fine to spend gobs of money speaking directly to us government folks, but try to go over our heads and talk directly to the unwashed masses, well, we have to make that illegal.  Far from tilting the balance of power to a few rich elite firms, the recent Supreme Court decision gives new power to the rest of us who don't have privileged access.

Update: Speaking of hypocrisy, the NY Times Corporation is outraged other corporations have been given the same rights it has had all along.  In a sense, the Times is lamenting their loss of a monopoly.

Update #2: Ilya Somin:  Corporate speech is actually an equalizer for far worse inequalities of political influence and access that already exist.

The Anti-Industrial Revolution

I stole this post title from Ayn Rand, but it seems appropriate to this story by James Delingpole.  Apparently James Hansen, leader of NASA's GISS, which does most of its climate research, wants to turn back the clock on industrialized civilization.    A new book by Keith Farnish writes:

The only way to prevent global ecological collapse and thus ensure the survival of humanity is to rid the world of Industrial Civilization.

And continues:

I'm rarely afraid of stating the truth, but some truths are far harder to give than others; one of them is that people will die in huge numbers when civilization collapses. Step outside of civilization and you stand a pretty good chance of surviving the inevitable; stay inside and when the crash happens there may be nothing at all you can do to save yourself. The speed and intensity of the crash will depend an awful lot on the number of people who are caught up in it: greater numbers of people have more structural needs "“ such as food production, power generation and healthcare "“ which need to be provided by the collapsing civilization; greater numbers of people create more social tension and more opportunity for extremism and violence; greater numbers of people create more sewage, more waste, more bodies "“ all of which cause further illness and death.

I wonder what Mr. Farnish thinks the average life expectancy was before the industrial revolution, or even "civilization?"  But my intention here is not to shoot fish in Mr. Farnish's barrel.  What is interesting is who approached Farnish and offered, unsolicited, to blurb his book:  James Hansen.  Here is Hansen's endorsement:

Keith Farnish has it right: time has practically run out, and the 'system' is the problem. Governments are under the thumb of fossil fuel special interests "“ they will not look after our and the planet's well-being until we force them to do so, and that is going to require enormous effort.

Does anyone believe that a person who believes this wouldn't misrepresent the science or fudge his temperature metrics to support his cause.  If he expects civilization to crash, why do we expect him to operate by the rules of civilized society?

Good News for Free Speech

Until today, we had the right to free speech, and the right to assembly, but not the right to free speech when we were assembled.  The Supreme Court has thankfully corrected that absurdity.  Quick roundup:  Jonathon Adler, John Stossel, Katherine Mangu-WardJD Tuccille, Jacob Sullum

Farm Tigers to Save Them?

Mark Perry suggests allowing tiger ranching to save tigers, and offers the alligator example as an analog of how commercial use helped revive an animal' fortunes.  This kind of ownership rights has revived a number of fisheries, and hasn't hurt either buffalo or ostriches either.

This video below is pretty funny, and gets at these issues towards the end.  "There might be a few polar bears left if people wanted one for breakfast."

Awesome Takedown of Homeopathy

I have written about it before, but here is Matt Parker:

I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating "bruising and injuries", which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.

Unlike most medication, it didn't list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.

The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.

It's hard to comprehend numbers that large. If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK. It's more than the gross domestic product of the entire world. Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.

The amazing thing to me is that the folks lining up to be fleeced by this industry, and who will vociferously defend that they are not being fleeced, are the types of folks who are typically the first to throw up the barricades in the street when gas prices rise by 5 cents.

By the way, Arizona has a state board of homeopathic examiners to check ... what, exactly?  To guarantee no active ingredient made its way into the product?

Here is a funny related video:

Licensing is Anti-Competitive -- This Time, Its Personal

I have written any number of times about how the justification for licensing is usually consumer protection or safety but the actual purpose is to protect larger, entrenched incumbents against competition.  However, most of those stories have been about caskets or hair braiding or other businesses that don't really affect me.  This time, its personal.

Sometime last October we needed a boat moved across the country from one of our marinas to another.  We found a local guy who was going in the right direction anyway and paid him a couple hundred bucks to haul the boat on a trailer behind his pickup.  Note that this is a perfectly ordinary pickup truck and a perfectly normal pontoon boat, the kind of car-trailer rig you can see thousands of people driving to the lake every Saturday morning.

The driver was stopped at a checkpoint in Wyoming.  And was busted there, at least long enough until he could give them my name and number and escape.

Why was he busted?  Because a) the truck/boat combination apparently weighed a tad more than 10,000 pounds and b) the boat was being moved for a commercial purpose  (i.e. it was a business asset).  Unknown to me, the combination of these two takes this transport event to the realm of "commercial carrier," which requires a Department of Transportation (DOT) license and a slew of regulatory responses.   Technically, the contractor we paid was at fault, but he escaped any legal problems because 1) he claimed he was our employee (untrue) and 2) he claimed he was driving our truck (untrue).  This led to Wyoming and later the DOT calling me asking for my DOT number (which I didn't have), my employment records (for a person who is not my employee) and my vehicle records (for a truck I have never owned).

Months later, I am still going back and forth with the cops in Wyoming.  But in the mean time I decided that since I was likely to move my stuff across state lines again, I might as well get my DOT number.  So I started that process.

As it turns out, there is absolutely no difference in regulation and compliance requirements between driving my own boat across state lines once a year and running United Van Lines.   The regulations one has to know are hundreds of pages long.  The user-friendly summary is 162 pages long! And it is careful to state, "Please do not use this guide as a substitute for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations."  There are driver and vehicle files that have to be maintained, special driver certifications, driver medical tests and certifications, etc.

In other words, there is absolutely no accommodation for a company like ours that is doing nothing different than you are driving you boat to the lake, but we have to set up a compliance and record-keeping system that trucking companies have whole departments for.  Which, of course, is the point.  Compliance costs for regulations can always be born easier by large companies and by incumbents.  The idea is to make it so onerous for individual companies to move their own boats that they are willing to pay over-priced Teamster-friendly trucking corporations to do it for them.  The point is not to make us safer - the average individual unregulated boater hauls boats more miles a year than we do - the point is to make sure we don't compete, even in the smallest way, with established trucking firms.

By the way, the issue that is likely to kill the deal totally on our getting a DOT number is the government mandate that I drug test my employees.  The relationship I wish to have with my employees is not one that encompasses my demanding samples of their bodily fluids on a regular basis.  I have turned down at least two potentially lucrative management contracts because both had drug-testing requirements and I am not going to do it.

Beyond Satire

From the TaxProf:

President Obama today issued a presidential memorandum directing the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, and other federal agencies to block contractors who are delinquent on their taxes from receiving new government contracts. The memorandum also directs the IRS to review the accuracy of companies' tax delinquency claims and asks Congress to enact enforecement tools.

This administration continues to follow the consistent principle that taxes should be applied ruthlessly to out-of-favor and unsympathetic groups, and forgiven or exempted for friends of the Administration.  Does anyone else find it odd that our first black President is doing so much to undermine the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment?