Archive for February 2014

Global Warming Updates

I have not been blogging climate much because none of the debates ever change.  So here are some quick updates

  • 67% to 90% of all warming in climate forecasts still from assumptions of strong positive feedback in the climate system, rather than from CO2 warming per se (ie models still assuming about 1 degree in CO2 warming is multiplied 3-10 times by positive feedbacks)
  • Studies are still mixed about the direction of feedbacks, with as many showing negative as positive feedback.  No study that I have seen supports positive feedbacks as large as those used in many climate models
  • As a result, climate models are systematically exaggerating warming (from Roy Spenser, click to enlarge).  Note that the conformance through 1998 is nothing to get excited about -- most models were rewritten after that date and likely had plugs and adjustments to force the historical match.

click to enlarge

 

  • To defend the forecasts, modellers are increasingly blaming natural effects like solar cycles on the miss, natural effects that the same modellers insisted were inherently trivial contributions when skeptics used them to explain part of the temperature rise from 1978-1998.
  • By the way, 1978-1998 is still the only period since 1940 when temperatures actually rose, such that increasingly all catastrophic forecasts rely on extrapolations from this one 20-year period. Seriously, look for yourself.
  • Alarmists are still blaming every two or three sigma weather pattern on CO2 on global warming (polar vortex, sigh).
  • Even when weather is moderate, media hyping of weather events has everyone convinced weather is more extreme, when it is not. (effect explained in context of Summer of the Shark)
  • My temperature forecast from 2007 still is doing well.   Back in '07 I regressed temperature history to a linear trend plus a sine wave.

Administrative Bloat

Benjamin Ginsberg is discussing administrative bloat in academia:

Carlson confirms this sad tale by reporting that increases in administrative staffing drove a 28 percent expansion of the higher education work force from 2000 to 2012.  This period, of course, includes several years of severe recession when colleges saw their revenues decline and many found themselves forced to make hard choices about spending.  The character of these choices is evident from the data reported by Carlson.  Colleges reined in spending on instruction and faculty salaries, hired more part-time adjunct faculty and fewer full-time professors and, yet, found the money to employ more and more administrators and staffers.

Administrative bloat is a problem in every organization.  It would be nice to think that organizations can stay right-sized at all times, but the reality is that they bloat in good times, and have to have layoffs to trim the fat in bad times.

The difference between high and low-performing organizations, though, is often where they make their cuts.  It appears from this example that academia is protecting its administration staff at the expense of its front-line value delivery staff (ie the faculty).  This is a hallmark of failing organizations, and we find a lot of this behavior in public agencies.  For example, several years ago when Arizona State Parks had to have  a big layoff, they barely touched their enormous headquarters staff and laid off mostly field customer service and maintenance staff. (At the time, Arizona State Parks and my company, both of whom run public parks, served about the same number of visitors.  ASP had over 100 HQ staff, I had 1.5).

This tendency to protect administrative staff over value-delivery staff is not unique to public institutions - General Motors did the same thing for years in the 70's and 80's.  But it is more prevalent in the public realm because of lack of competition.  In the private world, companies that engage in such behaviors are eventually swept away (except if you are GM and get bailed out at every turn).  Public agencies persist on and on and on and never go away, no matter how much they screw up.  When was the last time you ever heard of even the smallest public agency getting shut down?

I would love to see more on the psychology of this tendency to protect administrative over line staff.   My presumption has always been that 1) those in charge of the layoffs know the administrative staff personally, and so it is harder to lay them off and 2) Administrative staff tend to offload work from the executives, so they have more immediate value to the executives running the layoffs.

Libertarian: I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

From Lee Goodman on an opinion piece in the WSJ

This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station's regular Sunday-morning news program, "On the Record." The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on "On the Record" in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.

Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB's production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited.

Wow, I am sure glad the "libertarian" is pushing for government regulation of speech and government restrictions on the decision-making of private businesses.

Is Bing "Managing" Search Suggestions

Go into Google and search "Windows 8 is " and you will get auto-suggestions "Crap, Rubbish, Awful, Terrible, Horrible, Slow, A Disaster, A Flop".  When this was first noticed, folks suggested Google was playing games, though personally having tried Windows 8 a couple of times I thought the suggestions were dead on.  So Don Charisma tried the same thing with Microsoft's search engine Bing:

It appears that Microsoft got the message and has done a little managing of their algorithm, because now you get this:

Cool?  Great?  Amazing?  Seriously, who are they fooling?  Even Yahoo, which is powered by Bing (I think) doesn't give this kind of result

 

 

Is This Trend Really A Trend?

From the AZ Republic

Cancer is skyrocketing worldwide and urgent steps are needed to curtail a catastrophic rise in incidents of the disease, the World Health Organization said in a report this week.

New cancer cases are expected to soar globally from an estimated 14 million in 2012 to 22 million new cases a year within the next 20 years.

Cancer deaths are expected to jump from about 8.2 million to 13 million a year.

I guess my question is, is there really an epidemic of new cancers, or can this be explained by:

  • Better and earlier identification of cancers that always existed but went undiagnosed.
  • A reduction in early death and disease that allows more people to grow old into the years where cancers are common

In both these explanations, increases in cancer diagnoses could easily be, counter-intuitively, caused by improving local medical care rather than any environmental or genetic factor.

The article seems to imply that the explosion is due to environmental and nutrition issues.  I am certainly willing to believe that rising incomes allow more people to smoke, causing cancer issues.  But my guess is that most of this increase is from my two explanations.  Far be it for me to suggest that folks who depend on fear-driven funding of cancer care might exaggerate the scope of the "epidemic".

Temperature Trends and the Farmer Error

My dad grew up in farm country in Iowa.  He told me stories of the early days of commodity futures when a number of farmers lost a lot of money betting the wrong way.  The error they made is that they would look at their local weather and assume everyone was experiencing the same.  For example, some guy in Iowa would be experiencing a drought and facing a poor corn crop, and would buy corn futures assuming the crop would be bad everywhere.  Unfortunately, this was often not the case.

A few climate sites have monthly contests to predict the next month's average global temperature anomaly.   Apparently, everyone really missed in the January betting.  Since most of the participants were American, they assumed that really cold weather in the US would translate to falling global temperatures.  They were wrong.  The global temperature anomaly in January actually rose a bit.

This is a variation of the same effect I often point out in the opposite direction -- that heat waves in even seemingly large areas do not necessarily mean anything for global temperatures.  The US is only about 2% of the global surface area (land and ocean) and since the cold spell was in the eastern half of the US, it therefore affected perhaps 1% of the globe.  And remember, on average, some area representing 1% of the globe should constantly be seeing a 100-year high or low for that particular day.  It's just how averages work.

No particularly point here, except to emphasize just how facile it is to try to draw conclusions about global temperature trends from regional weather events.

Gee, I Wonder Why US Business Investment Is Sluggish?

From Jon Gabriel:

Trader Joe’s wanted to build a new store in Portland, Oregon. Instead of heading to a tony neighborhood downtown or towards the suburbs, the popular West Coast grocer chose a struggling area of Northeast Portland.

The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan. Then some community organizers caught wind of it.

The fact that most members of the Portland African-American Leadership Forum didn’t live in the neighborhood was beside the point. “This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination,” member Avel Gordly said in a press conference. Even the NAACP piled on, railing against the project as a “case study in gentrification.” (The area is about 25 percent African-American.)

After a few months of racially tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. “We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple,” a corporate statement said. “If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question.”

Hours after Trader Joe’s pulled out, PAALF leaders arrived at a previously scheduled press conference trying to process what just happened. The group re-issued demands that the now-cancelled development include affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small-business slush fund. Instead, the only demand being met is two fallow acres and a lot of anger from the people who actually live nearby.

Can Someone in California Get Me A Picture

Apparently people in California doctors offices are encountering signs that Covered California (e.g. Obamacare Exchange) Plans are not accepted.  If anyone sees one, could you snap me a picture and send it to me?

Notes from the Cloister

I have read the petitions, and I still cannot understand why so many of the (all female) students of Wellesley College are having a major freak-out about this piece of sculpture.  This is from a student petition to have it removed:

On contrary, this highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community. While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space.

Seriously?  It's a freaking sculpture.  I had thought that the whole point of women's colleges was to focus on creating strong, empowered women.  My wife always felt that way about Vassar (where the culture of educating strong women apparently existed even after it went coed).  But this story tells me that women's colleges have become cloisters to protect hothouse flowers whose fragile sensibilities can't handle a piece of art that is not particularly racy or outré (in the context of today's standards).   This is taking the fake campus right to not be offended and turning it into a pathology.   If you think I am exaggerating, go to the linked article and read the students and alums quoted.

To me, this art tells a story of a man's vulnerability and helplessness.   I would have thought the feminists would have loved it.

Marginal Economics Fail

How much more carbon does filling a marginal open seat on a bus produce vs. filling a marginal open seat on an airplane.  My guess is the answer rounds to zero even with a lot of decimal places.

Story here.

Obamacare Defenders: Don't Worry, All Obamacare Is Doing is Destroying the Incentive to Work

Defenders of the President are arguing that we are misreading the CBO report on job losses due to Obamacare.  And I have to agree.  Partially.

Looking more closely, the CBO report does in fact say that it cannot find that many companies eliminating full-time jobs due to Obamacare.  I think they are missing the boat, as I explained earlier, but perhaps my personal experience as a business owner is unusual.

The President's defenders want to make sure that we understand that the CBO is actually saying the 2 million job losses are from people dropping out of the work force because they have lost the incentive to work and/or they want to make sure they don't earn their way out of government freebies.

Whew.  I am sure relieved that all Obamacare is doing is destroying the incentive to work.  I thought for a second there we had a real problem.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Bad Precisely Because Prosecutors Love Them

Apparently, hundreds of US prosecutors have written Eric Holder opposing his support for reduced mandatory minimum sentences.    Their letter to Holder illustrates exactly why these mandatory minimums need to be reduced:

As you know, mandatory minimum sentences are a critical tool in persuading defendants to cooperate, thereby enabling law enforcement to dismantle large drug organizations and violent gangs. Present law provides numerous opportunities for deserving defendants to avoid mandatory sentences through: cooperation in providing information about other criminals and criminal enterprises; plea bargaining, which resolves the vast majority of federal cases; the “Safety Valve,” which has allowed tens of thousands of defendants to receive lower sentences; and executive clemency, which President Obama recently employed.

The last of these is of course a joke, since Obama plays more rounds of golf in two weeks than he has commuted sentences.  But this does illustrate exactly why prosecutors all love mandatory minimums and why we should hate them.  Read what they are saying in this paragraph.  Basically it says that mandatory minimums take sentencing out of the hands of judges and juries and puts it in the hands of ... federal prosecutors.

The problem is that very high mandatory minimums raise the stakes so high that even the innocent are often forced to cut a deal.  People sometimes wonder how the innocent could ever plead guilty to something.  Well, think of it this way.  Can you stand on one foot for 10 seconds without losing your balance?  Are you sure?   Would you bet $100 on it?  You would?  OK, would you bet 20 years of your life on it?

How sure of something would you have to be to bet your life on it?  And no matter how innocent you are, can you ever be that sure that a jury will see it your way when the federal government is sending everything it has at you?

Mandatory minimum sentences raise the stakes of trusting the judicial process so high that few people can tolerate that much risk.  They cannot afford to risk going to a jury.  So with this threat in hand, prosecutors gain 1) a slave that will basically do or say whatever they demand and 2) total control of the outcome of cases that should be going to trial.

I was not aware Eric Holder had supported this change but despite having my issues in the past with Holder I have to give him Kudos.

Update:  Ken White at Popehat (writing about a different story) says, "As I often say here, the criminal justice system is full of people who believe that its purpose is to deliver convictions and any other result shows a malfunction."  By the way, read the Popehat article at the link, it will horrify you.

Moon Illusion

After years of being demonized by friends and family for saying that the moon is not bigger when it is on the horizon, that it is just an optical illusion, I am happy to be vindicated

I thought the various explanations were fascinating, though I think the commenter's suggestion that it is a glitch in the matrix is the most compelling.

Hat tip:  Tom Kirkendall

Newsflash: Apparently, Obamacare will Reduce Full-Time Employment. Who Would Have Guessed?

The Washington Post reports on an updated CBO report:

The Affordable Care Act will reduce the number of full-time workers by more than two million in coming years, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday in the most detailed analysis of the law’s impact on jobs.

After obtaining coverage through the health law, some workers may forgo employment, while others may reduce hours, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office. Low-wage workers are the most likely to drop out of the workforce as a result of the law, it said. The CBO said the law’s impact on jobs mostly would be felt after 2016.

This almost certainly underestimates the impact.   Why?  Well, one reason is that a lot of full-time jobs were switched to part-time jobs way back in late 2012.  That is what our company did.  Why so early?  Because according to rules in place at the time (rules that have since been delayed at least a year) the accounting period for who would be considered full-time for the purpose of ACA penalties would be determined by an accounting period that started January 1, 2013.  So, if a business wanted an employee to be considered part-time on January 1, 2014 (the original date employer sanctions were to begin), the changes to that employees hours had to be put in place in late 2012.  More on this here in Forbes.

In addition, this CBO report is  a static analysis of existing business.  It does not seem to include any provisions for businesses that have dialed back on investment and expansion in response to the ACA (we have certainly cut back our planned investments, and we can't be the only ones.)  This effect is suggested (but certainly not proven) by this chart.

The sequester and government shutdown were cited by the Left as reasons for a sluggish economy.  Which government action seems most correlated with a flattening in job growth?

 

Progressives that Cannot be Satisfied

I believe it was back in 1973, when my dad was an executive with an oil company, he got hauled in front of Congress to testify on the proposed Alaska pipeline.  Senators on the Left accused the industry of threatening the environment in the name of greed, by trying to bring oil to market that was entirely unnecessary.  A few months later, once the Arab oil embargo had begun, he was back in front of Congress answering questions from the same Senators who opposed the Alaska pipeline about whether the rumors were true that oil companies were holding tankers off-shore, purposely making the shortage worse and driving up prices.  It was an early life-lesson in government for me, watching my dad be publicly accused within months of seeking new oil supplies too aggressively and purposely withholding oil supplies from the market.

I am reminded of all this by the Keystone pipeline brouhaha.  One wonders how many of the people opposing the Keystone pipeline will be the first out on the picket line protesting oil prices the next time there is an oil price spike.

Windows as a Stand-Alone Server

I have written before about how much trouble I had using windows as an unattended server for an application -- in this case for the XBMC video system on my TV's around the house.  No matter what I did, how many tweaks I made, how many websites I checked for advice, within a day or two some application or popup would take control of the screen and send my unattended application to the background.  This would not be such much of a problem if it was just me using it, but with a non-tech-savvy family members trying to interact with the device with a TV remote, it was unacceptable.  Eventually I switched to the Linux version of XBMC in a distribution call Openelec and I have had zero problems since.

I was reminded of all this at the San Diego airport.  They have these big beautiful screens with flight and weather and travel information.  But apparently they have problems making the windows popups go away as well (that's some sort of HP registration message in the window):

 

The most amazing example I have ever seen was on a giant, giant advertising screen on the front of a casino in Las Vegas, which had a huge windows popup covering whatever ads were supposed to be served up.  I wish I had my camera but I was out jogging at the time.

Update:  A reader sent me this, via gizmodo, from Cowboys stadium

How Regulators Strangle Legal Businesses

Apparently the Feds are using banking regulation to strangle businesses, even legal ones, that they don't like by cutting off their access to the banking system (via Overlawyered).

Wall Street Journal reporter Robin Sidel, along with Andrew Johnson, reported on the success that the federal government is having in barring access to the banking system for a number of businesses. As we've discussed previously, "Operation Choke Point" and related arm-twisting efforts by the Feds are aimed at making life difficult for a variety of targeted businesses. Among those disfavored businesses are online lenders, payday lenders, check cashers, virtual currency dealers, gaming businesses, and marijuana-related businesses (although our beloved US Attorney General has been making noises that he simply will look the other way when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws against marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law)....

In the article and a companion audio interview, Sidel states that the primary concern appears to be with the difficulty of complying with BSA and money laundering risk. While that's certainly true with many of the businesses, it's also true that some of the businesses have been targeted by the regulators for extra scrutiny because they're in a line of business, like payday lending, where the regulators simply don't like the business model on social policy grounds. If we see the Feds back off of weed but still keep the heat on payday lenders, then the argument that it's all about money laundering risk becomes a bit tenuous.