Archive for January 2011

Worst Losses Ever

This is a great post, with a lot of terrific video links, on one man's list of the worst sports endings ever.  (via Tom Kirkendal).  It is very long, but my favorite was probably #10.  And of course all of us of a certain age probably remember watching #1 live.

Strategic Vs. Tactical Victory

This is a strategy that I think makes a lot of sense (via Overlawyered)

Vowing no longer to be Mister Nice City (assuming it ever qualified as such), Chicago is now willing to pay $50,000 to fight (successfully) a police-misconduct case it could have settled for $10,000:

Even though the city stands to lose money litigating every case under $100,000, a spokeswoman for the law department said that recently compiled figures showed the strategy seemed to be saving taxpayer money by dissuading lawyers from suing the police unless they are confident of victory.

I used to work for Emerson Electric, a company that amongst its divisions made both ladders and table saws, two sure-fire litigation magnets.  We got ladder suits, for example, from some guy who propped the base of the ladder up on 6 stacked paint cans and then leaned the top of the ladder on some high voltage lines, all during a hurricane and got hurt, and immediately sued the ladder manufacturer for making a defective product.

Emerson decided early on it was going to be a hard target.  It hired in-house legal staff and fought nearly every single suit all the way to court if necessary.  If attorneys had a good case of a real defect or negligence, fine, they could win their day in court.  However, if they were looking for a quick percentage of a settlement, they needed to look elsewhere.  Turned out there were a lot of the latter.

Creepy

If there is anything creepier than weird children's art on the walls of an abandoned mental institution, I am not sure what it is.  From here. (for those who like urban architecture, urban archeology, and/or New York, this is a great site).

Who Defused the Population Bomb?

Fred Pearce has a nice article (in Grist of all places) about how the Population Bomb essentially defused itself.

For a start, the population bomb that I remember being scared by 40 years ago as a schoolkid is being defused fast. Back then, most women round the world had five or six children. Today's women have just half as many as their mothers -- an average of 2.6. Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere.

This is getting close to the long-term replacement level, which, allowing for girls who don't make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. Women are cutting their family sizes not because governments tell them to, but for their own good and the good of their families -- and if it helps the planet too, then so much the better....

And China. There, the communist government decides how many children couples can have. The one-child policy is brutal and repulsive. But the odd thing is that it may not make much difference any more. Chinese women round the world have gone the same way without compulsion. When Britain finally handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it had the lowest fertility in the world -- below one child per woman. Britain wasn't running a covert one-child policy. That was as many children as the women in Hong Kong wanted.

This is almost certainly one of those multiple-cause things, and we have always had the hypothesis that wealth and education reduced population growth.

But the author makes an interesting point, that urbanization, even in poorer countries, may a big driver as well.  After all, in the city, food and living space for children are expensive, and there are fewer ways children can support the family (I hadn't thought of this before, but I wonder if industrial child-labor restrictions, which mainly affected cities, had an impact on birth rates by making urban children less lucrative?)  In fact, urban jobs require educations which are expensive  (even if they are free, non-productive family members must be fed and housed for years).

Born to Rule

I thought this a good commentary on the whole Tiger mom thing.  Via Insty [Note I added some paragraph breaks -  sorry Mr. Smith, but I simply cannot abide by paragraphs as long as yours]

But here's the thing.  And here the point has been made easier to make by the curious fact that Tiger Mom is a Yale Law School professor and as Professor Bainbridge has pointed out, it seems almost an epidemic among faculty parents in New Haven.

My fear is that little tiger kittens are not being groomed to make things that you and I can buy if we feel like it.  I'm afraid, call me paranoid if you like, that those little achievers will want to grow up to, well, rule.  Not in the imperial Chinese way, though I take it that is the ultimate inspiration for this model of child rearing.  If my high school understanding of Chinese history is correct, that Empire used to be ruled by a giant bureaucracy into which one got by passing extraordinarily difficult exams, competing against other fanatically hopeful parents who saw it as one of the few ways to get the young persons out of a life of horrible drudgery.  But rather in something more like the imperial Chinese way than my ideal, which is more like Thomas Jefferson's, without the antique and misguided dislike of commerce.

So, if I'm sitting in the middle of my Jeffersonian space, able to order whatever I want, within my budget of course, from Amazon, working at something I like, not taxed to death or harassed by officious officials;  if I can provide for my family and hope to provide a similarly independent life for my offspring, then what's it to me if some mom somewhere wants to drive her children so that someday they will produce a recording or a pill I might want to buy?  Only good.

But if we are sliding toward a world like the one that is, to exaggerate only a little, like that I was taught we should be sliding toward when I restlessly roamed the hallowed halls the The Yale Law School many years ago, then I am not so sanguine.  Then I worry that all this fierce intelligence, all this ambition, all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top.  Not to mention the unbelievably well educated 35 year old who will tell me someday I didn't score well enough in some algorithm I can't even understand to get my arteries bypassed or my prostate cancer treated.

I want to live in a world, and I want my children to as well, where we are free individuals, and geniuses can sell us stuff if we want to buy it.  When I suspect the little elites of tomorrow are just being made more formidable still, it excites not my admiration as much as my anxiety.

Justifying Genocide as Green

I kid you not

So how did Genghis Khan, one of history's cruelest conquerors, earn such a glowing environmental report card? The reality may be a bit difficult for today's environmentalists to stomach, but Khan did it the same way he built his empire — with a high body count.

Over the course of the century and a half run of the Mongol Empire, about 22 percent of the world's total land area had been conquered and an estimated 40 million people were slaughtered by the horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes. Depopulation over such a large swathe of land meant that countless numbers of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests.

In other words, one effect of Genghis Khan's unrelenting invasion was widespread reforestation, and the re-growth of those forests meant that more carbon could be absorbed from the atmosphere.

Weirdly, the author equates cooling the Earth with "a glowing environmental report card?"  How did cold become green?

In fact, the world did substantially cool in the 14th century.  The previous 300 warm years had brought prosperity and growth to Western Europe, in fact the first population growth in Europe since as early as 300AD.  The commercial and intellectual regression that is often called the Dark Ages or the early Middle Ages (say 700-1000AD) is often attributed to a demographic collapse in Western Europe.  There are many who credit, at least in part, this collapse for the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The years 1000-1300 saw a real recovery, the first population growth for hundreds of years, and a number of important (though to us prosaic) technological, intellectual and societal advances. There are several factors behind this boom, but a large one is the Medieval Warm Period, where we can find records of certain crops (e.g. grapes in England) being grown far north of where they can be even today.

The early 1300's coincided with the return of cold, wet weather to Europe.  Whether this is in part attributable to Genghis Khan's killing rampage, I can't say.  But the effects were clear.  The 1320's and 1330's saw a series of terrible harvests and resulting famines.   By the 1340's, much of Europe was hungry and malnurished, weakening the population for the arrival of some rats carrying Bubonic Plague.  Again, not a few historians have noted that the climate-change-induced famines of the early 1300's likely made the early plagues more virulent.

This world of failed harvests, starving, and plagues -- this is a greener world we should aspire to?

(HT:  A reader)

Not A Human Right

I want to post more later when I have time on the whole notion of giving the US President an Internet kill switch (short review:  yuk!)

But I wanted to correct one bit of sloppiness in a number of posts.  Access to the Internet is not a human right.  If it were, the implication is that some groups of people would have to be coerced to provide Internet access to those who currently don't enjoy it.

The correct way to phrase the issue is "Turning off or blocking the Internet is not a government right."

Climate Feedback

Take all the psuedo-quasi-scientific stuff you read in the media about global warming.  Of all that mess, it turns out there is really only one scientific question that really matters on the topic of man-made global warming: Feedback.

While the climate models are complex, and the actual climate even, err, complexer, we can shortcut the reaction of global temperatures to CO2 to a single figure called climate sensitivity.  How many degrees of warming should the world expect for each doubling of CO2 concentrations  (the relationship is logarithmic, so that is why sensitivity is based on doublings, rather than absolute increases -- an increase of CO2 from 280 to 290 ppm should have a higher impact on temperatures than the increase from, say, 380 to 390 ppm).

The IPCC reached a climate sensitivity to CO2 of about 3C per doubling.  More popular (at least in the media) catastrophic forecasts range from 5C on up to about any number you can imagine, way past any range one might consider reasonable.

But here is the key fact -- Most folks, including the IPCC, believe the warming sensitivity from CO2 alone (before feedbacks) is around 1C or a bit higher (arch-alarmist Michael Mann did the research the IPCC relied on for this figure).  All the rest of the sensitivity between this 1C and 3C or 5C or whatever the forecast is comes from feedbacks (e.g. hotter weather melts ice, which causes less sunlight to be reflected, which warms the world more).  Feedbacks, by the way can be negative as well, acting to reduce the warming effect.  In fact, most feedbacks in our physical world are negative, but alarmist climate scientists tend to assume very high positive feedbacks.

What this means is that 70-80% or more of the warming in catastrophic warming forecasts comes from feedback, not CO2 acting alone.   If it turns out that feedbacks are not wildly positive, or even are negative, then the climate sensitivity is 1C or less, and we likely will see little warming over the next century due to man.

This means that the only really important question in the manmade global warming debate is the sign and magnitude of feedbacks.  And how much of this have you seen in the media?  About zero?  Nearly 100% of what you see in the media is not only so much bullshit (like whether global warming is causing the cold weather this year) but it is also irrelevant.  Entirely tangential to the core question.  Its all so much magician handwaving trying to hide what is going on, or in this case not going on, with the other hand.

To this end, Dr. Roy Spencer has a nice update.  Parts are a bit dense, but the first half explains this feedback question in layman's terms.  The second half shows some attempts to quantify feedback.  His message is basically that no one knows even the sign and much less the magnitude of feedback, but the empirical data we are starting to see (which has admitted flaws) points to negative rather than positive feedback, at least in the short term.  His analysis looks at the change in radiative heat transfer in and out of the earth as measured by satellites around transient peaks in ocean temperatures (oceans are the world's temperature flywheel -- most of the Earth's surface heat content is in the oceans).

Read it all, but this is an interesting note:

In fact, NO ONE HAS YET FOUND A WAY WITH OBSERVATIONAL DATA TO TEST CLIMATE MODEL SENSITIVITY. This means we have no idea which of the climate models projections are more likely to come true.

This dirty little secret of the climate modeling community is seldom mentioned outside the community. Don’t tell anyone I told you.

This is why climate researchers talk about probable ranges of climate sensitivity. Whatever that means!…there is no statistical probability involved with one-of-a-kind events like global warming!

There is HUGE uncertainty on this issue. And I will continue to contend that this uncertainty is a DIRECT RESULT of researchers not distinguishing between cause and effect when analyzing data.

If you find this topic interesting, I recommend my video and/or powerpoint presentation to you.

Post Office: Mail Delivery or Welfare?

The management of the Post Office is a joke, and it is hardly worth the electrons to write more about it.   But I did find this factoid in Tad DeHaven's commentary on the Post Office's hopeless efforts at cost reduction interesting.

Traditional post offices, which number about 27,000, cannot be closed “for solely operating at a deficit” and the closure process is burdensome.

Wow, that is a bad law (though no worse than 10,000 others like it).  This sounds similar to the military base problem, where every facility that needs closure has a Congressperson desperately trying to keep it open against all economic reality, merely as a jobs/welfare program once its true utility is over.   Apparently, the Post Office has an overcapacity problem that rivals the US Military's after the Cold War (and really to be honest after WWII)

Full post offices are more costly to operate than other means of serving customers. The average post office transaction cost 23 cents per dollar of revenue in 2009 while the average transaction at a contract postal unit cost just 13 cents. Post offices used to generate almost all postal retail revenue, but 29 percent is now generated online through usps.com and other alternative channels.

In 2009 post offices recorded 117 million fewer transactions than in 2008. Four out of five post offices are operating at a loss. However, the postal network’s overcapacity has drawn little corrective action from Congress. In fact, legislation introduced in the House with 102 cosponsors would apply the burdensome procedures for closing post offices to other postal outlets as well. Congress is actively working against the modernization of the U.S. postal system.

The amazing thing is that they have tons of extra capacity and still provide poor service.  Just compare the process of mailing a package UPS vs. USPS.  I have a UPS account, I can print my own labels, I get billed automatically, I get package tracking, and I can send the package from the drop box downstairs in my building.

It is almost impossible to do this with the USPS.  To mail anything larger than 13 ounces, to buy postage without an expensive meter, to get a greatly inferior sort of tracking -- all require a grim trek to the post office.

My guess is that just like Pemex is not longer really about producing oil, the USPS mission is no longer primarily about delivering mail, its a welfare program.

PS - my USPS delivery guy is great.  Nicest guy in the world.  The mistake for years in criticizing the USPS has always been about criticizing the people.  Not only is that wrong, but it distracts from the problem.  By implying the problem is bad, surly people, it implies the problem is fixable with new people.  But in fact, the problem, as with all government, is information and incentives .... and in this case Congressional meddling in their mission.

Green Jobs & Public Investment = Corporate Welfare

The recent naming of GE's Jeffrey Immelt to head a presidential commission on, err, something or other seems to have been an occasion for bipartisan gnashing of teeth about what I call the growth of the American corporate state.  I was encouraged by the bipartisan negative reaction from the left, right, and of course the libertarians, the latter of whom have always understood the difference between being pro-capitalism and pro-business.

But all it takes is a nomenclature change of this corporate welfare to "green jobs" or "investment in the future" or "bridge to the future" or similar bullsh*t and suddenly many of the exact same people, at least on the left, are swooning again.  Why is it not obvious that, for example, green energy subsidies are just the same old corporate welfare?

Here is one aggravating example

Despite millions in government grants and subsidies, the Manitowoc company President Barack Obama called a glimpse of the future lost $4.2 million last year and cannot promise shareholders it will be profitable in the foreseeable future....

“We may continue to incur further net losses and there can be no assurance that we will be able to increase our revenue, expand our customer base or be profitable,” the report indicates.

Investors have responded to the company’s volatility, and Orion stock has plummeted in the past four years.  It closed 2007 at $18.82 a share.  By the end of 2010 it was $3.34.

Regardless, President Obama is putting his, and the U.S. taxpayers’, money on companies like Orion.

“It’s important to remember that this plant, this company has also been supported over the years not just by the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration, but by tax credits and awards we created to give a leg up to renewable energy companies,” Obama said at the Orion plant on Wednesday.

The State of Wisconsin has also given its share trying to help Orion to succeed.  Since 2005, the state has given the company $350,000 in community development zone tax credits, $506,000 in economic development funds, and $420,000 from the Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund.  Plus the company got another $260,000 in stimulus funds for a State Energy project.

In addition to direct aid, public policy has also helped the struggling company.  Wisconsin law requires that 10 percent of all electricity sold in the state come from renewable sources by 2015.  Orion knows that without government intervention like that, there would be little prospect for the green economy.

“The reduction, elimination or expiration of government mandates and subsidies or economic or tax rebates, credits and/or incentives for alternative renewable energy systems would likely substantially reduce the demand for, and economic feasibility of, any solar photovoltaic and/or wind electricity generating products, applications or services and could materially reduce any prospects for our successfully introducing any new products, applications or services using such technologies,” the SEC report states.

By the way, in 2010, while the government was pouring taxpayer money into Orion, its founder and CEO was pulling his out, selling (by my count of SEC filings) 130,000 shares, despite equity prices that were at a five year low.    It is dangerous to draw conclusions form insider sales (we don't know what personal financial issues may be driving their actions) but it is interesting that the president and founder is taking the exact opposite point of view on the company's prospects than is President Obama.

Reservoir of Meyers

I thought this map in the National Geographic was cool- it shows the most popular surname in different areas of the country.  I am not sure what geographic divisions they use (why does Texas have so little granularity?).  But it does turn out there are a couple of "Meyer" labels on the chart, which kind of surprised me  -- though they did spell it the right damn way - no "s" on the end, no Mayer, no Myer or other such nonsense ;=)

The "Meyer" in the middle of Iowa is pretty much where my dad's family settled when they came over from Northern Germany.  Though I am confused as to why they show it color-coded as English origin -- I am pretty sure this area is German  (the Meyer over around northern Nebraska and in Wisconsin is coded German).

HT:  Flowing Data

Arrogance of the State

I know this is just a trivial example, but somehow it seems to be representative for me of a larger class of legislation - yield to the state!

In 2009, Colorado legislators passed the Yield to Bus Law to help transit agencies that were finding that the inability of buses to get quickly back into the traffic flow after a stop was hurting their on-time performance.

Steamboat Springs Transit helped push for the law after it had to add time to routes to stay on schedule because too often its buses were boxed in by traffic at stops, said Philo Shelton, director of Steamboat's public works department, which runs the 24-bus transit operation....

The hope is that motorists will get in the habit of yielding, thereby minimizing the need for enforcement of the law, officials say.  (via the antiplanner)

That does seem to be the point - produce citizens that are in the habit of yielding to the state.   Because we all know that having the state's bus full of empty seats stay on schedule is far more important than the schedule of all the little people around it.  When government schedules don't work, what do they do?  Change the schedules?  No!  Change the behavior of the citizenry so the schedules can be made to work.  Nothing wrong with the schedules - its all you folks who are broken.

This Explains A Lot

Some days I almost can't remember my own kids' names

The mysteries of the brain may be virtually endless, but a team of researchers from two institutes in Göttingen, Germany now claim to have an answer for at least one question that has remained a puzzle: just how fast does the brain forget information? According to the new model of brain activity that the researchers have devised, the answer to that is one bit per active neuron per second. As Fred Wolf of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization further explains, that "extraordinarily high deletion rate came as a huge surprise," and it effectively means that information is lost in the brain as quickly as it can be delivered -- something the researchers say has "fundamental consequences for our understanding of the neural code of the cerebral cortex."

Worst. DA. Ever.

Andrew Thomas was very competitive in Radley Balko's Worst Prosecutor of the Year voting.  But if he had just waited a few days, this news could have easily put Thomas over the top:

The same people responsible for tens of millions in claims being filed against Maricopa County are now drooling after their own pot of gold.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and David Hendershott, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's former right-hand man have filed a notice of claim along with Thomas' former lackey, Lisa Aubuchon, for a combined total of $60 million.
Aubuchon had already filed a $10 million claim; she's revised that to $22.5 million. Andrew Thomas, who quit the job voters gave him and failed in his bid to become state Attorney General, has the gall to seek $23.5 million from taxpayers. And Hendershott, the infamous Chief Deputy now under investigation following a co-worker's allegations of corruption and abuse of power, wants $14 million.

For the first time in my life, I voted in a partisan primary for the Coke/Pepsi parties this year specifically to vote against Thomas.  I cannot even imagine why they think they deserve this kind of payoff.  If anyone should be suing, it is the citizens of Maricopa County who should be suing these three.  Lots of articles about him on my site, but this one in the ABA Journal covers a lot of the ground.

Spiderman Musical Review (Turn Off the Dark)

OK, I saw the Spiderman musical (still in pre-production) on Broadway last week.  I thought I would share some thoughts about the show.  Note that I like musicals and have been to a bunch but I am by no means an expert.

The show began with an unforced error, which seemed really dumb given the bad press the show has been getting (mixed reviews combined with some very high-profile accidents).  I showed up 20 minutes early and found a line for the Will Call (not ticket purchase, but simply ticket pickup) that went down the entire long block.  It took me 40 minutes just to pick up my tickets.  The show started late, but I still missed the first number, and a LOT of people were behind me.

The show was sold out on a Wednesday night.  I don't know if this is a measure of its popularity or the new Nascar, waiting for an accident aspect of the show.  A friend of mine said he went the week before and the show had three long halts  (there is a lot of technical stuff going on in the flying -- the stops feel exactly like when the ride stops at DisneyWorld).  We had only two very short ones.

The staging is amazing.  Actors fly all around the stage, and more impressively, soar and fight above the audience, frequently landing on the railings of the balconies.  The stage itself is well done - they do a nice job creating the illusion of great height when scenes take place on the top of buildings.

The dancing is fun, in a high energy way.  Often it is more tumbling and gymnastics than dancing, but entertaining.

The plot in the first half is solid - the classic spiderman origin myth -- if you have seen the recent movie you have got it.

For me, the wheels really came off the bus in the second half.  The villain is Arachne -- not some super villain with an appropriate name, but the actual Arachne from greek mythology that Athena turned into a spider.  Arachne is a combination scorned lover, unkillable super-villain, and source of redemption and has these sort of spider minions around her.  This whole plot angle did not work at all for me.

Why the problem?  Well, they killed off the first villain in the first act.  So, without even being a sequel, they created the sequel problem in the second Act -- how do you top the first villain?  And like many sequels, it became over the top and incoherent.

OK, and now for the final problem:  The music was entirely forgettable.  There were no musical themes that helped unify the show (as someone like Andrew Lloyd Weber does).  There were just a bunch of unrelated songs  (I suppose there could have been a reprise, but the music being reprised was so forgettable that I forgot it).  The music established the right moods -- dark or heroic or romantic, but it was just wallpaper behind the actors.

I would not have had trouble with it if Bono and Edge had, being new to musical theater, tried to do something really different and failed.  But they simply cranked out a bunch of utterly bland show tunes.  A couple were OK at the time, but I sure wasn't whistling them on the way out.  In contrast, I saw Chorus Line 30 years ago and still can sing bits of several songs.

Weird Fact: Dr. Normon Osborn (who in the show is not only Green Goblin but also the creator of the mutant spider that gives Spiderman his powers) looks exactly like Madam Hooch in the Harry Potter movies.  As Green Goblin he looks more like a green Gene Simmons.

Massachusetts Goes Over the Line

Just after the Giffords shooting, Travis Corcoran, who I link from time to time for his biting commentary, posted something along the lines of "one down, 534 to go."  I didn't like the comment, but it was not wildly different from his quasi-revolutionary rhetoric he often uses when describing the fraud and outright criminality of public officials.  In the context of his body of work, I did not find it either surprising or particularly troubling, and certainly did not take it as a call to action or overt threat.  I merely thought it in poor taste.

The comment went viral, and many others trashed him on blogs and in his comments -- these folks found the comment to be much worse than just poor taste.  Their response was exactly what one does in a free society in reaction to speech we don't like -- we use speech in response.  Travis strikes me as a big boy who was able to handle the consequences of his speech.  Unlike many more cowardly sites, Travis did not re-edit the post to whitewash it or secretly eliminate it.

However, some folks were apparently not happy with just responding with speech.  Typical of modern discourse, certain folks wanted to win their argument by bringing the coercive power of the state in on their side.  Apparently, Massachusetts gun laws allow for revocation of firearms permits under certain vague circumstances (which are conveniently flexible for the state).  Travis had agents of the state (or local?) government show up at his door and confiscate his firearms.  Now, presumably there is a legal ruckus going on (TJIC is not one to take such things passively) and his site is down (presumably under advice of attorneys).

This strikes me as way over the line.  The implied threat does not meet any of the well-worn court judicial tests for speech that can be actionable as a threat.  I don't know enough law, and have not really studied the statute in question, to know whether this particular gun licensing law is able to establish a broader definition of threat (I am not sure it even has been tested in court).

But I am certain about one thing, because the statement I am about to make applies to just about every government law with vague terminology that leaves enormous room for selective interpretation and enforcement:  There is probably no way the state of Massachusetts or the city of Arlington can argue that this effective restriction on speech is being enforced in a viewpoint neutral way.  I bet I could find a whole boatload of radical leftish academics with firearms who have made far more specific threats and never have, and would never have, such restrictions enforced against them.

Update: Apparently there are threats of other legal actions.  I have just no time to blog right now, but Radley Balko has what seems to be a fair take and a lot more information.

Tucson Shooting Prediction

Here is the next bit of news I bet we will hear:  One of the victims or his/her families will sue Safeway, whose only involvement in the crime was that it had offered the parking lot as a location for Ms. Giffords constituent meeting.  Increasingly, though, the tort system is not about justice, but about finding deep pockets somehow tangentially connected to a tragedy.  I will bet that some lawyer right now is crafting a suit based on Safeway's inadequate security, poor judgement in allowing the meeting on their property, failure to warn customers of the potential dangers of attending such a political meeting, etc. etc.

Living in Fear of Seemingly Everything

The next great danger to western civilization is ... wood burning fireplaces.

“The smoke from a fire smells very nice,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “But it can cause a lot of harm.” The tiny particles, she said, “can cause inflammation and illness, and can cross into the bloodstream, triggering heart attacks” as well as worsening other conditions....

Not surprisingly, the green community has been sounding the alarm for some time. For the last several years,TheDailyGreen.com, an online magazine, has advocated replacing all wood-burning fireplaces with electric ones; an article published in September by Shireen Qudosi, entitled “Breathe Easier With a Cleaner Fireplace,” argued that there is no such thing as an environmentally responsible fire: “Switching out one type of wood for another is still use of a natural resource that otherwise could have been spared,” Ms. Qudosi wrote. And last fall, an article on the Web site GreenBlizzard.com, “Cozy Winter Fires — Carbon Impact,” called wood-burning fires “a direct pollutant to you, your family and your community.”...

Karen Soucy, an associate publisher at a nonprofit environmental magazine, isn’t swayed by that argument. She refuses to enter a home where wood has been burned, even infrequently.

Ms. Soucy, 46, blames fumes from a wood fire for sending her to the emergency room 25 years ago with a severe asthma attack. She had been staying at a friend’s house in Stowe, Vt., for about a day, she said, when her lungs seized up. She was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, and got two shots of adrenalin; the doctors blamed her friend’s cat.

“It was only later, working with a team of allergy doctors and pulmonologists, did we determine the culprit to be the wood-burning fumes from the various fireplaces,” Ms. Soucy said.

Now her husband scouts out any place they go in advance, to be sure it’s free of fireplaces, and she passes up countless dinners and parties. “I’m the one who feels guilty for always being the one to decline invitations or for making people go out of their way to clean their home,” she said. Even then, she added, “the smell lingers on everything.”

Absolutely, if you are worried about CO2 emissions, make sure you use an electric heater (some of the most inefficient sources of heat on the planet) powered by a big honking coal plant.  Because after all, in you hadn't burned that tree, it would have just fallen over and decomposed into ..uh.. Co2.  Which is why I personally advocate shrink-wrapping all Christmas trees after use and burying them deep, rather than mulching them as most cities do, to save the planet.

A Simple Rule of Thumb

Here is a simple rule of thumb:  Public officials should have no expectation of privacy when performing their public functions.  Period.  Except for some really narrow exceptions, I can't think of any justification for prosecuting people filming police officers than the officer's desire to avoid accountability.

I grew up in the South and saw the tail end of Jim Crow.  This is how we are achieving the new equality -- in the future, everyone will be treated by the criminal justice system like blacks have been in the deep south.

Minimum Wage

My Forbes column is up on the minimum wage.  It covers some of the ground I could not get to on TV the other night.

State Bankruptcy Prediction

There seems to be discussion in Washington about creating a legal framework for state bankruptcies.  My guess is that any law that might be passed will simply be a Trojan Horse.

A lot of people (including myself) would like the idea of the tough provisions applied to individuals who are bankrupt being applied to states.  Unfortunately, it is wildly unlikely that this is actually what we will get.  Any such law would likely just be a bailout program renamed "bankruptcy" to make it more palatable to the public, a transfer of obligations from state to federal taxpayers without any real imposition of discipline or cleanup of long-term obligations like pensions.  Heck, this is exactly what happened at GM, and that was just a private company.

Some might assume that a Republican House would be loathe to support bailout provisions for California, but two thoughts come to mind.

First, California, despite being a blue state, has plenty of red Congresspersons who will scream support for a bailout (for a parallel, think ethanol or farm subsidies, where grain state Republicans are among the first to break ranks with their brethren to support government interventionism).

Second, it is not clear that the Administration even needs the Congress any more to dish out money.  It has found so many extra-Constitutional ways to appropriate money without actually having to go to Congress (e.g. use of TARP funds for about anything, use of the Federal Reserve, etc.) that it should be no problem to do this without the House.  Take just one idea -- Imagine California issues a $100 billion in 0.0000005% 100-year bonds that the Fed then buys at face value with printed money (as they have been buying US securities).  Instant bailout, no Congress.

The Short, Pithy, Minimum Wage Bon Mot I Should Have Said

For many, low wage jobs are the first rung on the ladder to success and prosperity.  Raising the minimum wage is putting the first rung of the ladder out of reach of many low-skilled Americans.

File this under "why I blog rather than do a lot of talking head cable shows."

Additional Tease for my Stossel Appearance

I love it when progressive policy wonks who have never, and would never sully their hands with running an actual productive enterprise, tell me I must be running my business wrong.

Spiderman Tonight

Well, after flying 10 hours round trip to do 5 minutes of television  (don't get me wrong, it was a new enough experience that I am glad I did it) I am going to reward myself by seeing Spiderman the musical tonight.  Seriously, Bono, Edge, Spiderman, stage accidents?  I have to give it a chance, despite mixed reviews.  I will post reviews tomorrow.

Coyote on TV

I flew to New York to go in studio on the Stossel show today.  I did a brief bit on the minimum wage, a reprise from my earlier cameo on Stossel special.  It will be on tomorrow, Thursday at 9PM Eastern on Fox Business  (not Fox News, Fox Business).

The whole experience was new to me, which made me virtually unique as I was surrounded by policy wonks who do this kind of talking head thing all the time.   By the way, there was no sharing of questions or his plan in advance -- I think they want you cold.  So answers are all in real time.

Please, please, please do not write me or post comments such as "you should have said ____."  It will just depress me.  Believe me, 5 minutes after walking out I thought of 9 things I should have said.  Which is in fact why I blog rather than engage much any more in real time argument.

Anyway, I think his show will be pretty good -- he has Michael Cannon on health care and segments after mine on cash for clunkers and alpaca subsidies.  I shared the green room with an alpaca, which will probably just go to prove the old saying about always getting upstaged by kids and animals.

By the way, I think Stossel must set a different tone for his staff than is normal on TV.  I was talking to one of his producers, a guy that had come with Stossel from ABC, and I asked him if he had studied something relevant to this job in college.  I expected him to say "yes, theater" or "yes, television production."  But he said "yes, economics at George Mason."  I loved that answer.