Archive for June 2013

Equal Marriage Arizona Off and Running

Reverend Charlotte was the first signer on our petition for ballot qualification.  She was incredible, telling the TV audience that she wants the ability to marry gay couples in her church, but doesn't want to force her brothers and sisters in other parishes to conduct marriages that are against their beliefs.

Equal Marriage Arizona First Signature

It was a big day for her on a personal level as well.  She was married to her same-sex partner in New York a couple of years ago, and as of yesterday the Feds recognized that marriage.   We still have not done so in AZ, but she was thrilled to help us get started repairing that as well.

Some of you may know that I blog in part because I am incredibly introverted and have trouble with public interactions with strangers.  Yesterday I did 2 live TV feeds, one live in-studio TV appearance, and 4 taped TV interviews plus any number of radio and print interviews.  Today I think I am suffering from some form of PTSD.   But that is why we hurried to get our petition filed -- we wanted to be part of the story when the Supreme Court ruled, and we were.

If you are in AZ, check out our web site at equalmarriageaz.com to see how you can help.  If you are out of state, you can still help financially, or just check out our Facebook page and lend us your moral support there.

 

Citizen's Initiatives Dealt A Significant Blow

Since I am part of a group working to pass a ballot initiative in Arizona to allow same sex marriage in this state, I was obviously pleased with the decision to strike down DOMA yesterday.

However, the decision not to rule based on lack of standing on the Prop 8 suit creates a real mess above and beyond any implications for same-sex marriage.

Proposition 8, a California initiative to ban same-sex marriage that likely would not pass today, was introduced and passed five years ago because the authors of the initiative knew it was a step legislators would never take but that they thought (correctly at the time) that the voters would support.  In fact, in a nutshell, this is exactly what the initiative process was meant to achieve.  If citizens think the legislative process is broken on a particular issue (e.g. taxes, where legislators have entirely different incentives vis a vis raising taxes than do taxpayers), they can do an end-run.  In a sense, this is exactly what we are doing in Arizona with our Equal Marriage initiative, though of course with the opposite desired end result from Prop 8.  But just as in that case, we do not have high hopes of the current legislator passing such a Constitutional Amendment, so we are doing it through citizens initiative.

The problem in the Prop 8 case was that when the law was challenged in court, neither the governor nor the legislature was willing to defend it in court (remember, that it was passed over their opposition).  Given the very nature of ballot propositions and the reasons for them discussed above, this is likely a common occurrence.  But the Supreme Court refused to rule on the case because, as I understand their argument, only the administrative or legislative branch of the state government has standing to bring the appeal (ie defend the original law that was overturned by a local Federal court).

This is a really bad precedent.  It means that any initiative passed by citizens that is opposed by the current state government is enormously vulnerable to attack in courts.  If the government officials are the only ones who have standing, and they refuse to defend the law, then it will lose in court almost by summary judgement.

There has got to be some process where courts can grant citizens groups who filed and passed such initiatives standing to defend it in court.  Certainly there could be some judicial process for this, almost like the process for certifying a class and its official representative in a class action suit.  Without this, citizens initiatives are going to lose a lot of their power.

Update:  Scott Shackford at Reason writes

So should we be worried? Could the reverse – voters approve gay marriage recognition only to have the state refuse to back it – happen? What if the voters approved term limits for state legislators and they just ignored it?

The majority decision was not unsympathetic to the argument (incidentally, it’s interesting to see how polite these arguments are when you end up with such an unusual combination of justices on each side) but firm in that: 1) Getting a ballot initiative passed does not make you an agent of the state with standing; and 2) If you aren’t an agent of the state who is expected to defend the law, then you have to have proof of a personal harm and the proponents do not. Arguably, if the situation were reversed (the state refusing to defend an initiative recognizing gay marriage), it’s easy to see how they could allow standing and the outcry that would cause. A person denied a marriage license from a same-sex ballot initiative may be able to prove harms from discriminatory policies and earn standing.

I had not thought of it that way, but it is interesting that the Court could not find any demonstrated harm to straight petitioners from the legality of same-sex marriage.  I suppose that is a good sign.

Solar Concept I Had Not Seen Before

Uses huge greenhouses combined with a very tall column to generate convection currents that drive turbines.    Apparently can still generate power at night taking advantage of the difference between soil and ambient air temperatures.  I have no idea if this makes a lick of sense financially (without subsidies).

The Complete Klutz

I was down at the Arizona capitol first thing  this morning to do some live TV interviews on reaction to the Supreme Court DOMA decision  (as Chair of Equal Marriage Arizona, which has a ballot initiative in the works to allow same-sex marriage, we wanted to get our initiative close tied to the story today).

Once the decision came down around 7:10 AM local time, the networks wanted an immediate reaction.  I told them I needed to read for 5 minutes to make sure the decisions were what we expected (they were).  So I leaned up against a palm tree to stay in the shade and read my iPad.  Well, it turns out the tree trunk was crawling with ants.  So as I began my live TV interviews, I could feel them crawling all over my back and starting to bite.  I am not sure how coherent I was in the interviews.  I am pretty sure the reporters were confused about my ripping off my jacket and shirt once the interviews were over.  Maybe they thought it was some sort of Brandi Chastain celebration.

On a related note, having tangentially been involved now in the media rush around a Supreme Court decision, I found this analysis of the running of the interns quite entertaining.

Trying to Make My Job Impossible

Walter Olson has an article on three recent 5-4 decisions where we narrowly avoided Supreme Court rulings that would have further separated liability as a business owner from actual bad actions.  This one in particular resonates with me:

Vance raised the question of who counts as a “supervisor” for purposes of harassment liability. Under existing Court precedent, employers are more or less automatically liable when a “supervisor” engages in harassment. When it’s a co-worker, they are still frequently liable – e.g., if they have received a complaint about it but not fixed things, or if they have negligently allowed the situation to develop – but liability isn’t as close to automatic. As all Justices recognized, however, the old model of a workplace with a military-like chain of command is fast giving way to newer models in which it is extremely hard to tell who is supervising whom, and in particular work orders (“Here, do this for me.”) can issue in multiple directions, not just from “up” to “down.” The four liberal justices were happy to blur the lines by saying that the more people are doing supervisor-like things, the more employees’ misconduct will be imputed automatically to the employer with no chance for it to raise counterarguments that it had acted properly. The majority led by Justice Alito more reasonably recognized that the ability to take tangible employment actions against a co-worker is a better test of “supervisor” than the ability to ask them to undertake some work responsibility.

Last year I got sucked into a lawsuit where an ex-employee, after her termination, sued our company for allegedly racist remarks another employee made about her husband.  The lawsuit was the first we ever heard about the alleged incident -- it was never reported to me or any other manager or employee, it was behavior that was banned by our policies and training, and we never (obviously) had a chance to make any corrections.  The litigant tried to argue that the person who made the alleged remarks was "supervisory" because she had sometimes been asked to draft a shift schedule for the manager.

We eventually had this dismissed, but it cost us $25,000 in legal fees to make it go away.   It was particularly frustrating given that if this had ever been raised as an issue to me, it would have been investigated and heads would have rolled if necessary.  This whole notion of having liability even when operating to the highest standards is just terrifying.  And four Supreme Court justices tried to make all this irrelevant, essentially linking my liability to the standards and intelligence of whoever is my weakest employee.

The Question the NSA is Not Answering

The NSA is claiming that the data that they grabbed in essentially warrant-less Hoovering up of telephone and Internet metadata has helped in certain investigations.

I have no doubt that is probably true.

But that is not the right way to frame the problem.  The real issue is:  Did being able to data mine metadata for all Americans help solve the case better and faster than had they been required to seek specific probable cause warrants for data from specific people?

To make clear the distinction, let's suppose I were trying to justify stealing a copy of every book in Barnes & Noble.  I might be able to accurately say that those books helped me writing a good Napoleon paper for school.   But could I have achieved the same goal - writing a paper on Napoleon - by purchasing individual books as needed via legal shopping processes?  The answer is probably "yes."  Having all the books pre-stolen only contributed in that it saved me the hassle of going down to the store and finding a specific book I needed.

In the same way, I suspect that having this data base merely saved FBI and others the hassle of filling out some paperwork in each case.  I am not sure incremental success rates in a few cases is enough justification to rip up the Constitution, but I am sure that laziness is not.

The Non-Marriage Penalty

First, I am interviewed today at Reason on our Equal Marriage Arizona initiative.

One question that keeps coming up, both from libertarians as well as others, is why should government define marriage at all?  Can't anyone get married in any kind of private ceremony?

My response is that yes, in some sort of libertarian small-government world, the state would be irrelevant -- what I used to call separation of marriage and state.

But it turns out that the state is already deeply involved in marriage.  The explicit state licensing of marriage already exists, and our laws in Arizona for this licensing are unequal -- some couples get access to this state license, and some cannot.

What makes this important is that marriage is embedded in hundreds, even thousands, of laws.   I searched the Arizona Revised Statutes for mentions of the words "spouse" or "spouses".  These words are used 1133 times in 373 different statutes!  The Our America team told me they counted over a thousand references in Federal code.  In other words, our law codes give -- in thousands of instances -- specific rights, responsibilities, and privileges to married couples who have access to a state-granted marriage license.  Those left out of the current unequal definition of marriage face any number of challenges imposed on them by these specifics of spousal rights and privileges embedded in our law code.  I call this the non-marriage penalty.

There is no way to rip all these references to marriage out of the law and tax code.  The fairest solution -- the one that most respects individual freedoms -- is to accept that such government licensing of marriage exists and then make it as open and as equal and as fair and as accessible as we possibly can.  That is what we are trying to achieve with Equal Marriage Arizona.

Equal Marriage Arizona

Today I have registered as the chair of Equal Marriage Arizona.  We are seeking to place a proposition on the ballot in Arizona in 2014 to broaden the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two persons".  We are also adding language to protect religious freedom, specifically

a religious organization, religious association, or religious society shall not be required to solemnize or officiate any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its Constitutional right to free exercise of religion."

Our press release is here.  Gary Johnson's Our America organization has been kind enough to sponsor us, as have the Log Cabin Republican's national organization.  My co-chair in Arizona is also chair of the Arizona chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.

I suppose in an ideal libertarian world, marriage would not even be subject to state administration.  But the fact is that there are scores of provisions, from inheritance laws to financial and medical privacy laws, that give special privileges to couples who are officially married, such that it is a real equity issue that some couples are denied the ability to marry.  Perhaps there was a time when some hoped that contracts or civil unions might be an adequate substitute, but I know too many single-sex couples struggling with the deficiencies in these alternate, and deficient, marriage substitutes.

We are not seeking a referendum on sexual choices or lifestyles.  We are seeking a initiative expanding liberty by providing for equal marriage, for what could be more fundamental to personal freedom than choosing who one will marry?

More to follow.

 

PS -- I am turning off comments on this for a while, as it likely will get some media attention today.  Y'all know I traditionally have the most open comments policy on the web, moderating for spam only.  However, many people, including some in the media, still do not understand the difference between blog posts and comments, and tend to try to count political coup over the more outrageous comments.  As a minimum, since most bloggers moderate, they assume that I do as well (no matter how many times I say I don't) so that any obscene or deeply insensitive statements are assumed to be tacitly approved by me, since I did not moderate them.  Rather than moderate comments for content, I would prefer just to turn them off.

How To End New York's Stop and Frisk Tomorrow

Mayor Bloomberg in New York seems to think he has his own personal army he can order to do whatever he wishes, irregardless of Constitutional protections.  Case in point is the egregiously unconstitutional stop and frisk program.  The only way this program survives is that it is generally applied only to the powerless.  I would love to see the policy applied randomly, rather than just to poor blacks, with officers tomorrow performing random stop and frisk at, say, the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street.  The outcry from the not-so-powerless would be so incredible that the program likely would not survive another 24 hours.

Technologies That Make No Sense

The wireless electric vehicle charger.  Sure it's cool.  And convenient.   But as I understand it, the main selling point of electric vehicles is their energy efficiency (I personally like the driving feel of a torque-y electric motor, but that does not seem to be the advertised selling point).  If this is the case, then why the hell would one accept a 30% energy loss (wireless charging is generally considered to be about 70% efficient) because they were too lazy to plug in a cable?

This is against the backdrop of most electric vehicle owners having no freaking clue if they are actually saving energy and money or not (all they know is that they see the costs to fill their gas tank but don't see little numbers spinning when they fill their electric car).  As I have written before, they likely are not saving energy vs. a similar size gasoline engine car but may be saving some money due to the lower cost of fuels like natural gas and coal (vs. gasoline) used in electricity production.

That's OK, I Am Sure They Are Gaining All the Business Skills They Need in Their Ecuadoran Gender Studies Class

Our government's plan to make sure that all young people are unemployed and have no ability to develop vital job skills continues to proceed:

Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in the entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad. But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie "Black Swan."

A few thoughts:

  • It has always amazed me that Progressives, who are the most likely to argue that money isn't everything, simply insist on ignoring non-monetary benefits of jobs.  Jobs offer money, yes, but can also teach vital skills and benefits which can dwarf the monetary component for some.   The skills taught in an internship can be sophisticated -- e.g. how to produce a radio broadcast -- or prosaic -- e.g. how to show up on time and work with others, but they have real value to young people.  I know there are jobs my 19-year-old would take for free to gain experience and/or break into a particular industry.   Jobs can also offer people of all ages intellectual or physical challenges.  I have many people in the 70's who work for me merely to stay active, meet new people, and enjoy the outdoors.
  • There will still be one place to still get unpaid internships -- Congress, since they exempt themselves from these laws.
  • I am always simply amazed at people who accept an employment deal -- in this case exchanging their labor for experience but no money -- and then go to court because the deal was, err, exactly what they were led to expect.  This reminds me of people who buy a home next to the airport because it is cheap and then sue over the noise.

This Is How We Get In Pointless Climate Flame Wars

The other day I posted a graph from Roy Spencer comparing climate model predictions to actual measurements in the tropical mid-troposphere (the zone on Earth where climate models predict the most warming due to large assumed water vapor positive feedbacks).  The graph is a powerful indictment of the accuracy of climate models.

Spencer has an article (or perhaps a blog post) in the Financial Post with the same results, and includes a graph that does a pretty good job of simplifying the messy spaghetti graph in the original version.  Except for one problem.  Nowhere is it correctly labelled.  One would assume looking at it that it is a graph of global surface temperatures, which is what most folks are used to seeing in global warming articles. But in fact it is a graph of temperatures in the mid-troposphere, between 20 degrees North and 20 degrees South latitude.  He mentions that it is for tropical troposphere in the text of the article, but it is not labelled as such on the graph.  There is a very good reason for that narrow focus, but now the graph will end up on Google image search, and people will start crying "bullsh*t" because they will compare the numbers to global surface temperature data and it won't match.

I respect Spencer's work but he did not do a good job with this.

This May Finally End NHL Hockey in Arizona

Let me bring you up to speed:  The NHL owns the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, having taken them over in bankruptcy.  It needs to sell the team and is demanding $200 million for the team, having promised the league owners it would not accept anything less (so they will not take a loss in the investment).  The team is worth, however, something like $100 million, at least if it stays in Arizona.

The team plays in a stadium built by the relatively small city (250,000 people) of Glendale, which put something like $300 million of taxpayer money into the stadium and has provided operating subsidies to the team the last several years that probably total another $100 million, at least.  The city has a bad hand, but keeps doubling down on its bet to try to retain the team.

The problem, of course, is the $100 million difference in the bid-ask for the team.  Glendale first tried to fix this by agreeing in a previous deal couple of years ago to basically give the buyer $100 million of taxpayer money to bridge the bid-ask gap.  The Goldwater Institute sued, saying that the Arizona Constitution pretty clearly states the government can't directly subsidize commercial interests.  They prevailed (before it ever reached court) and the deal died.

The only way left for Glendale to make the deal happen was to give a buyer $100 million in taxpayer money but to do so in a more disguised manner.  The one option they had was in the stadium management contract.  If they agreed, say, to pay the buyer $10 million a year over market rates for the stadium management contract, over 15 years that has about a $100 million present value.  They can get away with this because there is no objective valuation of what a management contract would cost on the open market.

But their ability to do this is, thankfully, about to die.  Under intense pressure, and in a fit of good government that I am sure Glendale regrets, it actually went out and sought arms-length contracts for stadium management from third parties.  It is enormously unlikely the city will accept any of these bids, because it needs the stadium contract as a carrot for someone to buy the Coyotes at the NHL's inflated price.  Besides, I bid on large contracts a lot and I have often been presented with bid packages from an entity that had no intention of awarding, but wanted me to go through all the bid effort just to establish an internal price benchmark or to keep their preferred provider honest.  I can smell these from a mile away now.

The problem Glendale will have, though, is that when these 3rd party bids become public (which they inevitably will), it will then be impossible to hide the implicit subsidy in the management contract.  Presumably, taxpayers then will push back on any future deals using this dodge, though Glendale citizens seem pretty supine so one never knows.  Also, the city can also tweak the responsibilities of the stadium contract, thereby allowing them to claim that comparisons against these past bids are apples and oranges (though this will be hard as I expect arms-length bids around $5 million a year vs. $15 million they propose to pay the team buyer).

PS-  It is hilarious to see worried comments from Gary Bettman (NHL Commissioner) about how hard on Glendale it will be if the Coyotes leave town.  Merely lowering his asking price to something less than 2x the market price would solve the problem in an instant.

On NSA Spying: No One Says You Broke A Law. It's Just A Little Weird That You Didn't Have To

The Next Step in Regulation Madness

So, what is the next danger to the Republic that requires coercive government control to protect us all from disaster?  Pedicabs:

Operating a pedicab used to be cheap and easy. A person could make a buck with little or no overhead and without restrictive, burdensome regulations.

That’s no longer true in some Valley cities that have approved ordinances limiting who can operate pedicabs on their streets. Scottsdale is the latest to tighten its rules, joining Phoenix and Glendale. No other Valley municipality regulates pedicabs.

To continue doing business in Scottsdale, pedicab operators must have a valid Arizona driver’s license, maintain insurance and adhere to regulations pertaining to the safety and visibility of the pedicab. The ordinance, which became law on May 9, includes penalties for non-compliance but does not specify any inspections.

Phoenix’s ordinance, which went into effect in August 2008, was in response to concerns and complaints from downtown stakeholders and patrons regarding pedicab activity, city spokeswoman Sina Matthes said. The ordinance is stricter than Scottsdale’s, requiring Police Department inspections and inspection tags.

Glendale’s ordinance, which became law in late 2007, requires a city-issued license and limits the hours of operation and what roads can be used by operators, said Sgt. Jay O’Neill of the Glendale Police Department.

Why the regulation.  What safety disaster led to this?  Well, apparently some poor pedicab operator allowed himself to be hit by a drunk driver.

Scottsdale’s ordinance was prompted by a Jan. 4 crash involving a suspected drunken driver and a pedicab trailer on Scottsdale Road near Rose Lane. The two pedicab passengers suffered serious head and spine injuries.

Scottsdale police determined that there were no mechanical or safety violations.

Here is some government cluelessness:  it is OK if we rape you as long as we ask for your feedback first

In Scottsdale, operators must maintain at all times a commercial general-liability insurance policy of at least $1 million per occurrence and $2 million annual aggregate.

Jay Ewing Jr., owner and operator of Big Papa Human Powered Transportation, said four people have asked him if he wanted to purchase their equipment because they are going out of business in connection with the Scottsdale regulations. He says a pedicab operator can expect to pay at least $250 a month for insurance....

Scottsdale police Cmdr. Jeff Walther said the transition has gone smoothly because all operators were made aware of the proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide input before the regulations were approved by the council.

“I was surprised, my folks were surprised, that almost immediately there seemed to be a pretty dramatic decline in operators,” Walther said.

National Adolescence

I have been toying with a concept I am calling national adolescence.  My emerging theory is that civilizations go through phases much like that of a human male, and the most dangerous to all around it is adolescence.  Adolescent males can do crazy, unproductive things to show off, to count coup, to bolster their ego and perceived status.  They are more prone to being violent and dangerous, to pick stupid fights to prove their alpha-maleness rather than to achieve rational goals.

Nations often go through an adolescent phase.  Sometimes it can last for decades or centuries.  Two symptoms of this phase are 1) Imperialism and over-readiness to fight and 2) monument-building and other such show-offery.

I have written a number of times about monument building, for example here.  We see it in countries trying to build record-tall buildings -- note who is doing it, they are always the nouveau riche (e.g. Dubai).  We see it in cities wanting to have light rail systems in order to be considered a real city (ie as a status project).  We see it in every Thomas Friedman column about China doing big things while we are not.  And we see it now in the fear that somehow having China sending men into space 50 years after the US and USSR did so somehow is a marker in the decline and fall of the US.

I don't buy it.  What you are seeing, what Thomas Friedman is seeing, is adolescence.  We may regret lacking as much youthful vitality, but we should not aspire to the adolescent's poor judgement.  Our sixties space program went exactly nowhere, except to let us count coup on the rest of the world and cement our status.  The Chines space program as currently configured will achieve nothing more.

PS-  The Egyptians may be a good example.  All the great Pyramids were built when the Egyptian civilization was really young.  There are a variety of reasons why pyramid building ended, but surely a maturing confidence in their civilization's greatness must be one.

Message to Obama: Respecting the Rule of Law includes respecting the Constitution

I have been on the road with business, and working on a fairly big announcement for next week, so I have been slow in keeping up with the emerging NSA scandal.  I want to give a few brief thoughts on Obama's defense of extensive NSA data gathering.  Obama said:

That’s not to suggest that, you know, you just say, trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

  1. I don't trust any of the three branches of government.  You know what, neither did many of the folks who wrote the Constitution
  2. The involvement of the three branches of government in this issue boil down to less than two dozen people:  the President, a subset of the 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a subset of the 11 judges (3?) on the FISA court, which has demonstrated pretty conclusively that they will approve any warrant no matter how absurdly broad
  3. Non-specific warrants that basically cover open-ended data gathering on every single person in the country, with no particular suspect or target named, are clearly un-Constitutional.  "and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  I would love to know what probable cause the NSA cited to seized Warren Meyer's Verizon call records.  20 Washington insiders cannot change the Constitution -- that requires a vote of 3/4 of the states.
  4. Obama has stopped even pretending to care about the Constitution, an amazing fact given that he is nominally a Constitutional professor
  5. Partisan hypocrisy has never been clearer, as traditional defenders of civil liberties and opponents of the Patriot Act like Al Franken rush to defend the NSA spying (thank God for Linsey Graham, who can be counted on to be a consistent authoritarian).  Democrats and Republicans have basically switched sides on the issue.

When assessing any new government power, imagine your worst political enemy wielding the power and make your judgement of the powers' appropriateness based on that worst-case scenario.  Clearly, though, no one can see past the occupant of the White House. with Coke party members backing powers for Coke Presidents but opposing them for Pepsi Presidents and vice-versa.

Climate Model Fail

Dr. Roy Spencer has compared the output of 73 climate models to actual recent temperature measurements.  He has focused on temperatures in the mid-troposphere in the tropics -- this is not the same as global surface temperatures but is of course related.  The reason for this focus is 1) we have some good space-based data sources for temperatures in this region that don't suffer the same biases and limitations as surface thermometers and 2) This is the zone that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory says should be seeing the most warming, due to positive feedback effects of water vapor.  The lines are the model results for temperatures, the dots are the actuals.

click to enlarge

As Spencer writes in an earlier post:

I continue to suspect that the main source of disagreement is that the models’ positive feedbacks are too strong…and possibly of even the wrong sign.

The lack of a tropical upper tropospheric hotspot in the observations is the main reason for the disconnect in the above plots, and as I have been pointing out this is probably rooted in differences in water vapor feedback. The models exhibit strongly positive water vapor feedback, which ends up causing a strong upper tropospheric warming response (the “hot spot”), while the observation’s lack of a hot spot would be consistent with little water vapor feedback.

The warming from manmade CO2 without positive feedbacks would be about 1.3C per doubling of CO2 concentrations, a fraction of the 3-10C predicted by these climate models.  If the climate, like most other long-term stable natural systems, is dominated by negative feedbacks, the sensitivity would be likely less than 1C.  Either way, the resulting predicted warming from manmade CO2 over the rest of this century would likely be less than 1 degree C.

More on declining estimates of climate sensitivity based on actual temperature observations rather than computer models here.

Two DVD Reviews of Poorly Rated Movies That Had Some Redeeming Characteristics

I had pretty good experiences this week with not one but two movies rated 6 and under (which is pretty low) on IMDB

Atlas Shrugged, Part II:  A mixed bag, but generally better than the first.  The first episode had incredibly lush, beautiful settings, particularly for a low budget indie movie.  But the acting was stilted and sub-par.  Or perhaps the directing was sub par, with poor timing in the editing and dialog.  Whatever.  It was not always easy to watch.

The second movie is not as visually interesting, but it tossed out most of the actors from the first movie (a nearly unprecedented step for a sequel) and started over.  As a result, the actors were much better.  Though I perhaps could wish Dagny was younger and a bit hotter, she and the actor who played Rearden really did a much better job (though there is very little romantic spark between them).  And, as a first in any Ayn Rand movie I have ever seen, there were actually protagonists I might hang out with in a bar.

The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book.  We won't get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand's characters, but what she does really well -- in fact the whole point of the book to me -- is tracing socialism to its logical ends.  For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen's story of the fate of 20th Century Motors.  Little of this world-wilting-under-creeping-socialism really comes out well in the movie -- its more about Hank and Dagny being harassed personally.  Also, the movie makes the mistake of trying to touch many bases in the book but ends up giving them short shrift - e.g. Jeff Allen's story, D'Anconia's great money speech, Reardon's trial, etc.

I would rate this as worth seeing for the Ayn Rand fan - it falls short but certainly does not induce any cringes  (if only one could say that about the Star Wars prequels).

Lockout:  This is a remake of "Escape from New York", with a space prison substituting for Manhattan and the President's daughter standing in for the President.  The movie lacks the basic awesomeness of converting Manhattan to a prison.  In fact, only one thing in the whole movie works, and that is the protagonist played by Guy Pierce (who also starred in two of my favorite movies, LA Confidential and Memento).

The movie is a total loss when he is not on screen.  The basic plot is stupid, the supporting characters are predictable and irritating, the physics are absurd, and the special effects are weak.  The movie is full of action movie cliche's -- the hero throwing out humorous quips (ala Die Hard or any Governator movie), the unlikely buddy angle, the reluctant romantic plot.  But Pierce is very funny, and is thoroughly entertaining when onscreen.  I think he does the best  job at playing the wisecracking, cynical hero that I have seen in years.

Dialect Survey

These have been kicking around the Internet for a while but this is the most extensive set (over a hundred) that I have seen  (You can get an accurate guess as to where I grew up by the name I gave the image below)

coke

New York Attempting to Make Contempt of Cop a Felony

One of the great revolutions in civil liberties has been the handheld video camera.  Time and again police that have taken individuals to jail and charged them with things like resisting arrest have been shown, through video evidence, to be lying their asses off.  It is depressing to see how many cases exist where video evidence directly contradicts the police story, and to think how many people have ended up in jail before such video evidence simply because the cops wanted them there and manufactured an incident.

One thing that accumulated video evidence shows is that many police officers seem to think the law makes them the dictator of the everything in a hundred yard radius around them, and they tend to get incensed when any citizen does not immediately respect this made-up authority and follow their every order, legal or not.  Further, it is clear that there are many officers who have absolutely no qualm about beating the crap out of someone with no immediate justification and then blaming the victim, knowing that their fellow officers will back them no matter what outrageous facts they make up.  Only video evidence is slowly breaking through this practice, which is why the police tend to fight back so hard against photography of their public actions, and why in-dash cameras so often happen to be turned off just when they are needed.

Having watched numerous videos of police encounters at sites like PINAC, I have no doubt that this proposed New York law making it a felony to annoy police officers will be shamelessly abused by police (the law requires some sort of body contact but that is extraordinarily easy for the police to manufacture, and the text of the law does not even require the contact to be initiated by the citizen so accused).

Power Without Accountability Will Be Abused

President Obama argued that he should be trusted with the (in the US at least) nearly unprecedented power to order anyone he wants killed -- military or civilian, American or foreign-born -- sending a drone after them.  He claimed to have this really detailed and careful process -- heck, they even had a spreadsheet.

Most of us expressed skepticism, and several folks in the know have expressed fear that, as with most such powers, its use has been creeping from an extraordinary measure against uniquely qualified targets to an almost casual use against rank and file targets.  Turns out this fear was justified:

The CIA did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period, an NBC News review of classified intelligence reports shows.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as "other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists -- picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Not sure this even requires further comment.

Cost and Benefit and the Fourth Ammendment

From Reuters via Zero Hedge:

The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier, reopening the debate over privacy even as it defended the practice as necessary to protect Americans against attack.

The admission comes after the Guardian newspaper published a secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.

A senior administration official said the court order pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers' identities or the content of the telephone calls.

Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.

"It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official added.

The revelation raises fresh concerns about President Barack Obama's handling of privacy and free speech issues. His administration is already under fire for searching Associated Press journalists' calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked government information.

A few thoughts:

  1. I have no doubt that this makes the job of tracking terrorists easier.  So would the ability to break down any door anywhere and do random house searches without a warrant.  The issue is not effectiveness, but the cost in terms of lost liberty and the potential for abuse.  The IRS scandal should remind us how easy it is to use government power to harass political enemies and out-groups
  2. The FISA court is a bad joke, as it seems willing to issue "all information on all people" warrants.  I think there is little doubt that similar data gathering is going on at all the other carriers.
  3. Luckily, Susan Rice is now the National Security Adviser.  I am sure with her proven history of not just being a political puppet but really digging in to challenge White House talking points that she will quickly get to the bottom of this.

Sorry For The Site Crashing Yesterday

My VPS was migrated to new servers several weeks ago and my IP addresses changed.  I have had a series of down times over the last several weeks, most of which have been related to finding yet another spot where I did not change the IP addresses to the new ones and caused some sort of instability.  Having thought I had gotten them all, I found yesterday that I had not properly updated my records at Incapsula, a filtering and caching service I use for this blog and a few others.  Now that is fixed.  Hopefully, that is the end of it.

Apparently Obamacare is Better Because it Gouges Everyone

A number of people pointed out that the posted Obamacare rates in California are about twice what individuals are paying today at low-cost sites.  This was in response to a deceptive California press release that claimed they were much lower, but got this result only by comparing apples to oranges.

Rick Ungar has two responses, that seem to be the emerging talking points on the left:

  1. He found some bad Internet reviews of the low-cost source that Conservatives and libertarians used as a better point of comparison for Obamacare rates
  2. Some of the people had to pay up to 50% more than the published rates due to pre-existing conditions.

Avik Roy has a number of responses to Ungar (and Ezra Klein, who raises the same points as Ungar).  I would raise three points:

  1. Neither he nor Klein address the issue of the fundamental deceptiveness of the California press release.  I don't think anyone can defend comparing individual rates to business group rates as anything but apples to oranges.  If the Obamacare story is so great, why was the deceptiveness necessary?
  2. Everyone gets bad reviews on the Internet.  If one transaction out of a thousand goes bad, that one will write a negative review online and few of the satisfied will bother.  If sex were a product on Amazon.com, it would likely have some 1-star reviews.  That being said, it is amazing to me that government control is seen as the solution to customer service issues.  I could be wrong, but I would stack up the reviews of the worst health insurance company in America against the DMV and Post Office any day of the week.
  3. The published rates online are for the healthiest class of people.  I have never once had someone sell me health insurance and not make this clear.  Calling them teaser rates is a misnomer, particularly since, as Avik Roy notes, about 75% of the people who apply get these rates.  One in four have to pay 50% more today, so we are going to make 4 in 4 pay 100% more under Obamacare, and that is better?!?

To that last point, I will quote something I said years and years ago, long before Obamacare was passed:

The looming federal government takeover of health care as proposed by most of the major presidential candidates will be far worse than anything we have seen yet from government programs.  Take this example:  In the 1960's, the federal government embarked on massive housing projects for the poor.  In the end, most of these projects became squalid failures.

With the government housing fiasco, only the poor had to live in these awful facilities.  The rest of us had to pay for them, but could continue to live in our own private homes.

Government health care will be different.  Under most of the plans being proposed, we all are going to be forced to participate.  Using the previous analogy, we all are going to have to give up our current homes and go live in government housing, or least the health care equivalent of these projects.

Postscript:  Citizen Kane has over 100 1-star reviews.  Some are about the packaging or this particular version but many are about the movie.   The novel Gone with the Wind has dozens.

Postscript #2:  A sample Yelp review of a local USPS office

This place is the pits.

There are no supplies in any of the racks unless you want to send something Express Mail. All of the Priority Mail stuff is constantly gone and they don't have any more. Not that there's anyone to stock the racks even if they did.

People used to leave reviews complaining that there were "only two" workers. Those days are long gone--there is now ONE counter person at all times. That means if you get behind someone that has questions, or can't understand a customs form, or wants to argue about mail being held, you are just stuck.

Why not use the automated machine, you ask? Because its printer has been broken for two weeks and you can't actually print the postage that you might buy. Not that there's a sign telling you this--you have to spend a few minutes going through the process only to be told at the end that the transaction can't be completed because the printer isn't working.

I know they are making cuts because they are out of money, but it's a vicious cycle they'll never get out of because they've now effectively made it impossible to patronize the postal service.

Stay far, far away.

I would not be at all surprised if California banned online reviews of health care exchanges.  One department of the CA state government threatened to revoke all my contracts unless I took down a blog post simply linking to negative Yelp reviews of one of the department's facilities.