Posts tagged ‘England’

Subsidies Beget Subsidies

So after spending billions to subsidize the construction and operation of wind farms, Britain has discovered that their output variability is a problem and that they produce too much of their power at night (issues many of us predicted long before they were built).  So now England is facing the policy choice of either a) paying wind farm owners to NOT product power or b) paying factory owners to switch their operations to night time.  Seriously.  For most areas, wind is among the worst possible electricity source.

Raise Medicare Taxes

I have made this argument before -- your lifetime Medicare taxes cover only about a third of the benefits you will receive.   Social Security taxes are set about right -- to the extent we come up short on Social Security, it is only because a feckless Congress spent all the excess money in the good years and has none left for the lean years.

But Medicare is seriously mis-priced.  I have always argued that this is dangerous, because there is nothing that screws up the economy more than messed up price signals.  In particular, I have argued that a lot of the glowy hazy love of Medicare by Americans is likely due to the fact that it is seriously mis-priced.  Let's price the thing right, and then we can have a real debate about whether it needs reform or is worth it.

A recent study confirms my fear that the mispricing of Medicare is distorting perceptions of its utility.

As debate over the national debt and the federal budget deficit begins to heat up again, an analysis of national polls conducted in 2013 shows that, compared with recent government reports prepared by experts, the public has different views about the need to reduce future Medicare spending to deal with the federal budget deficit. Many experts believe that future Medicare spending will have to be reduced in order to lower the federal budget deficit [1] but polls show little support (10% to 36%) for major reductions in Medicare spending for this purpose. In fact, many Americans feel so strongly that they say they would vote against candidates who favor such reductions. Many experts see Medicare as a major contributor to the federal budget deficit today, but only about one-third (31%) of the public agrees.

This analysis appears as a Special Report in the September 12, 2013, issue of New England Journal of Medicine.

One reason that many Americans believe Medicare does not contribute to the deficit is that the majority thinks Medicare recipients pay or have prepaid the cost of their health care. Medicare beneficiaries on average pay about $1 for every $3 in benefits they receive. [2] However, about two-thirds of the public believe that most Medicare recipients get benefits worth about the same (27%) or less (41%) than what they have paid in payroll taxes during their working lives and in premiums for their current coverage.

Update:  Kevin Drum writes on the same study.  Oddly, he seems to blame the fact that Americans have been trained to expect something for nothing from the government on Conservatives.  I am happy to throw Conservatives under the bus for a lot of things but I think the Left gets a lot of the blame if Americans have been fooled into thinking expensive government freebies aren't really costing them anything.

The "They Will Not Assimilate" Argument Rising Yet Again From the Grave

How many times does an argument have to be wrong, and for how long, before it finally loses credibility?  I suppose the answer must be nearly infinite, because the "they will not assimilate" argument is rising again, despite being about 0 for 19 on the groups to which it has been applied.  Germans, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans and now Chechnyans.   This argument always seems to be treated seriously in real time and then looks stupid 20 or 30 years later.  As an extreme example, here is Benjamin Franklin writing about Germans in 1751:

why should the Palatine Boors [ie Germans] be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

(By the way, if you want to retain an unadulterated rosy image of Franklin, who was a great man for many reasons, do not read the last paragraph at that link.  People are complicated and sometimes even great men could not shed all the prejudices of their day.)

The only good news is that the circle of those acceptable to the xenophobic keeps getting larger.  It used to be just the English, then it was Northern Europeans, then much later it was all Europe and today I would say it is Europe and parts of Asia.  So that's progress, I suppose.

Fun fact:  Ironically, the English King at the time Franklin wrote the quote above was George II.  He was actually a German immigrant, born in Germany before his father came to England as King George I, jumping over numerous better claimants who were Catholic.  His son actually assimilated very well, as George III spoke English as a first language, and his granddaughter Victoria practically defined English-ness.  By the way, Victoria would marry another German immigrant.

Prices in Healthcare

Had an interesting discussion with my favorite New England liberal this weekend about the Time Magazine article on Hospital pricing and charges.  We both found the articles to be excellent.  But drew completely different conclusions.  She saw this all as a failure of capitalism, a sign of the inherent corruption that occurs that demands more goverment intervention.  I saw it as a totally screwed up market, from the dominance of third party payers to government-enforced monopolies (e.g. certificates of need), that killed any incentive of consumers to shop. The entire pricing mechanism is broken, and simply replacing it with a set of fiat prices from the government is not going to make things better.

Megan McArdle has a good interview with Bart Wilson on this very topic.  Here is a small excerpt:

Megan: Okay, so let me ask the obvious question: if a whole lot of health care wonks think that government-rate setting would fix health care costs, why should I be skeptical?

Wilson: Who knows the conditions of who values what and the opportunity costs of supplying health care? What set of minds in the government has the knowledge needed to make tradeoffs, to know who is best to supply this service or that one?

The values and costs of healthcare have to be discovered.

Megan: The wonks who favor rate-setting argue that health care simply isn't like any other market. For one thing, there's an information problem: how do I know if I want a heart bypass or not?

Why not let an expert who has read all the studies on heart bypasses make that decision?

Wilson: Right now, the doctor recommends to the patient what the insurance company will pay for. What incentive does the patient have to find alternatives? (None.)

There is the assumption that an expert knows all the alternatives. Doctors are not interchangeable. They know different things.

The function of a market is let us learn who will serve us sufficiently well.

Megan: So let's step back even farther, to 30,000 feet or so, for a second. What does the price do in a market? Why should I want to put a price on my lung transplant?

Wilson: A price is like a symbol at any moment of what millions of people are willing and able to do. All of the technology and services of the doctors have to be weighed against whatever else they could be applied to.

The prices of alternatives to lung transplants are doing the same thing. The difficulty is assuming that a lung transplant is "inelastic". What a price system does is find what part of say, healthcare, is on the margin.

“Inelastic” means that I’m relatively indifferent to the price. The last glass of water in a desert is the quintessential inelastic good; people will pay all they have to get it. Things can be more or less inelastic, which is to say, that demand can be more or less responsive to changes in price. Health care is often thought to be very inelastic.

Megan: But this is precisely the argument that health care wonks make: when I need a lung transplant, I don't have the time, or the emotional ability, to comparison shop. So there's no price discovery mechanism.

Wilson: Does the government know or have the ability to comparison shop for me? Do they know my circumstances?

Also, for some healthcare services, you do have the ability to comparison shop. Those services will then discipline the healthcare market in general.

Statists Write History

In today's history lesson, we have something called the "Addled Parliament."  Surely that cannot be a good name to have, and in fact the name was given as a term of derision, very like how the Left describes the current Congress as obstructionist and ineffectual.

So why did it gain the name "addled"?  It turns out, for about the same reasons the current Congress comes under derision from Obama:  It did not give the King all the money he wanted.  Via Wikipedia:

The Addled Parliament was the second Parliament of England of the reign of James I of England (following his 1604-11 Parliament), which sat between 5 April and 7 June 1614. Its name alludes to its ineffectiveness: it lasted no more than eight weeks and failed to resolve the conflict between the king, who wished to raise money in the form of a 'Benevolence', a grant of £65,000 and the House of Commons (who were resisting further taxation). It was dissolved by the king.

Parliament also saw no reason for a further grant. They had agreed to raise £200,000 per annum as part of the Great Contract and as the war with Spain had reached its resolution with the 1604 Treaty of London, they saw the King's continued financial deficit as a result of his extravagance (especially on Scottish favourites such as Robert Carr) and saw no justification for continued high spending.

Moreover there remained the continuing hostility as a result of the kings move of setting impositions without consulting Parliament.

Wow, none of that sounds familiar, huh?  In fact, James was an awful spendthrift.  Henry the VII was fiscally prudent.  Henry the VIII was a train wreck.  Elizabeth was a cheapskate but got into expensive wars, particularly in her declining years, and handed out too many government monopolies to court favorites.  But James came in and bested the whole lot, tripling Elizabeth's war time spending in peace time, mainly to lavish wealth on family and court favorites, and running up debt over 3x annual government receipts.   History, I think, pretty clearly tells us that Parliament was absolutely correct to challenge James on spending and taxes, and given that it took another century, a civil war, a Glorious Revolution, a regal head removal, and a lot of other light and noise to finally sort this issue out, it should not be surprising that this pioneering Parliament failed.  Yet we call it "addled".

College Bleg, Wesleyan (CT) Edition

My son is being recruited, at a minimum, at Bowdoin, Vassar, Wesleyan, Haverford, Kenyon and possibly Amherst and Pomona to play baseball.  We have a pretty good handle on all these schools except Wesleyan in Connecticut, which we have visited but we are having a hard time getting a read on.

In the 2011 Insider's Guide to the Colleges, Wesleyan is described as an extreme example of a college dedicated to politically correct intolerance.  The book says that the classes tend to be mainly focused on teaching kids to be radical activists rather than any traditional subject matter.  Social life is portrayed as revolving around marijuana and hallucinogens.   It is by far the most negative review we have read (well, I suppose this would not be negative to some).

We are trying to get a read on the accuracy of this.    Any of you know this school or attend it?   Is there truth to this, or does the writer have an ax to grind?   He is not naive to what he will find politically at New England liberal arts colleges. The question is not whether there is a lot of leftish political correctness - that is a baseline in all such schools.  The question is whether this school is unusually extreme.  The book makes it sound like it is Kos Kidz Academy.    Comment or send me an email.

Update:  Hmm, based on the comments, I explained myself poorly.  Nic will likely never play pro ball.  If that were his goal, we would definitely be looking to ASU or Texas.  He has decided he wants to go to a small liberal arts college.  Baseball has two synergies - one, he would like to play in college.  Two, being recruited for sports helps in the admissions process at selective schools.

There is money set aside to pay for college, from a source such that it needs to be used for college, so arguments about price-value issues with college are not immediately relevant.

Milestone, Sort of

Last week in the race around New England colleges I missed a milestone of sorts - Coyote Blog crossed over 5 million visits.  I say "of sorts" because with feed readers, many readers of the blog do not hit the visit counter.  In fact, with over 2,000 feed subscribers who check this feed each day, that equates to about 3/4 million visits a year that don't hit the counter.

Nevertheless, all these numbers, however flawed, are far higher than I ever thought I would reach here (way back on September 29, 2004).  Thanks for the support.

PS-  Here was that first scintillating post 6-1/2 years ago:

This blog will often touch on the insanity that is the current American tort system. I don’t think there is any greater threat to capitalism, due process, or democracy than the growing power of the litigation bar.

Via Overlawyered.com, which should be an essential part of your daily blog browsing, comes this story. Apparently, after being sued by Okaloosa County for making defective police cars, Ford refused to sell the county any more of this type car. The County sued again, this time to force Ford to sell it more cars of the type it is suing Ford for being defective:

One of Morris’ attorneys, Don Barrett, has said the sheriff firmly believes the Police Interceptors are defective but he wants to buy new ones to replace aging cars because seeking other vehicles would be more costly.

lol. Unfortunately, in the service business, it is legally more difficult to exclude customers from the premises. We have several well-known customers who come to our campgrounds (plus Wal-mart and any other private retail establishment) desperately hoping to slip and fall and sue. In a future post, I will tell the story of a Florida campground that is being sued by a visitor for sexual dysfunction after the visitor allegedly stepped on a nail in their facility.

Out This Week

On a college visit trip in New England with my son.  We will be at Cornell, Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, Colby, Bates, Brown, Yale, Princeton.  If your best friend is admissions director or the baseball coach at any of these schools and is desperately searching for smart kids from Arizona who blog and hit for power, you are welcome to email me :=)

Italian Rail

After having my car hit 3 times in one week driving in Italy, I swore this time I would do it without the car.  So I tried rail.  I had almost as much trouble with rail as with driving.

First, never, ever, ever buy a Eurail pass for Italy.  It is way too expensive compared to the train fares.  Its a good deal in Switzerland, so I bought one for Italy before doing the research.  It became a running joke in Italy - every single Italian rail employee we had to show the pass to told us we should not have bought it.  So not only did I pay too much, but I got reminded of it twice a day.

Second, all but the smallest and shabbiest trains require advanced reservations, but these reservations are nearly impossible to make if you are not Italian, because the rail site has some kind of weird block on most all American credit cards (much about this around the Internet).  This means that I can't just have get-on-the train and go flexibility, I have to pick a train I want to use in the future and then stand in line at a rail station to purchase the ticket or reservation.    Lines do not move fast in Italian rail stations.

But the classic story comes from my minor infraction of rail policy that ended up costing me money.  I don't know if this is just government or if it they have a lot of problem with cheating.  Apparently, each day you are supposed to fill that days date in the next slot on your Eurail pass before you get on the train.  I forgot to on one trip, so the conductor insisted I owed a 50 euro fine.  Seriously.  I said, let me add the date right now, but she said no.  They had a couple guys lined up to throw us off in the next random Italian town if we did not hand over the money  (reminds me of this story in England).

I will say, once I calmed down, that in retrospect the lecture from the Italian state employee on why it is important to follow every single rule and to trust our betters in government that all the rules are for a good reason was almost worth the 50-euro price of admission.

It took me a while to figure out what they were afraid of -- I suppose if you did not write the date in advance, and the conductor never came by, you could get an extra day of travel.  Of course, I had paid extra money for a reservation on that particular train, so it was unlikely I was gaming the system (another reason not to get a Eurail pass in Italy, you still have to pay extra for nearly every train).  And it seemed odd that on a 2-hour train ride they thought it a real risk no conductor would come by, though on the very next day we took a 2-hour ride and there was no conductor, so I suppose it is possible.

In that latter case we were in a car where the AC failed on a hot day, and of course it was the only train we rode on the whole trip where the windows did not open.  No conductor took my ticket, but one did stand at the end of the car the whole trip turning away anyone who wanted to get an open seat in the next car -- after all, we were assigned a specific seat and sitting in another would be against the rules.

More on Wind

I was having a back and forth with a reader about wind power and how much fossil fuel capacity must be kept on standby to support grid reliability with wind.  Here are some excerpts of what I wrote:

Forget all of the studies for a moment.  I used to operate power plants.  Any traditional capacity (fossil fuel, nuclear) except perhaps gas turbines takes on the order of a day or more to start up - if you don't take that long, the thermal stresses alone will blow the whole place up.  During the whole startup and shutdown, and through any "standby" time, the plant is burning fuel.   Since we don't have a good wind energy storage system, some percentage of wind capacity must be backed up with hot standby, because it can disappear in an instant. We are learning now, contrary to earlier assumptions, that wind speeds can be correlated pretty highly over wide geographies, meaning that spreading the wind turbines out does not necessarily do a lot to reduce the standby needs.  And since plant startups take time, even gas turbines take some time to get running, the percentage of wind power that required hot backup is pretty high -- I would love to find this percentage.

I found at least one source for such a percentage, which posits that for England, the percentage of hot backup needed is as high as 80%:  http://www.ref.org.uk/Files/ref.for.decc.28.10.09.i.pdf

I quote from page 6-7:

On any view, including the square root rule of thumb referred to above, the result, imposed for purposes of maintaining adequate response and reserve requirements, implies that a high degree of conventional (dispatchable) plant capacity is retained in the system to support wind generation. Thus, for 25 GW of installed wind capacity only 5 GW of conventional plant can be replaced leaving 20 GW in the role of standby capacity (also known as "Spare" or "Shadow Capacity").3

So 80% of the expected production from wind has to be backed up with hot spares burning fossil fuels.  They go on to say that the percentage of required spare capacity may be lower if the grid area is substantially larger, but not a lot lower.  I had not considered hydro power, but apparently that can be used to provide some quick response to wind production changes.  The report also talks about diesel generators for standby since they can be started up quickly, but these are seriously inefficient devices.  Despite the report's conclusion that the situation might be a bit better on the continent with a larger and more diverse grid, a report of the largest German utility seems to argue that German experience may actually be worse:

As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.

It is hard to tell, because 48,000 MW is the nameplate capacity which is virtually meaningless, but my guess is that they are not doing better than 80%.

My Mom Would Be Going Blind in England

Several new drugs have reversed my mom's macular degeneration, and are such a wonder that she is even willing to tolerate frequent injections into her eyeball, a concept that gives the rest of our family the willies.  Forget about it in England, though, where National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which Obama wants to emulate in the US, does not allow these drugs:

3. In 2007, NICE restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers. Even then, the drug was only approved for use in one eye, meaning those lucky enough to get it would still go blind in the other.

And by the way, is NICE an Orwellian name or what?

Postscript: Fortunately, we are unlikely to have a system that bans Americans from spending their own money on things the plan will not buy  (a bit of socialist egalitarianism that is practiced in a number of European countries).  Not for lack of trying by many Democrats, however.

Testing post by email

I really wanted to post by email in England but could not make it work. Trying again.

Update: So close, yet so far away. LOL. I will keep working on it.

Is It OK To Laugh At Your Kid?

Today I dropped my son off in England for summer school.  As background you need to know that he has lived in brand-new-out-of-the-shrinkwrap American suburbs all of his life.  So it was funny to me to see the look on his face when he was told at the college that his dorm room elevator was broken and might not be fixed for at least a month.  The "WTF?" look was priceless.  I could see him thinking that a one hour outage of infrastructure would be something to comment on back home, but a month??

But the really funny part was when the Dean asked him to check his rooming envelope to see his room number, and he realized the implication of the three digit number that started with "7."  As with most teenage boys, he wanted me gone anyway ASAP, and I was happy to leave him to his independence and avoid the trudge up to his room.  After I left, he still had a small voyage of discovery as he learns that "floor 7" in England is actually euqivilent to "floor 8" in the US.

What a Horrible Law

Via Reason:

Because, unbelievably, Cartwright had previously been served with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO)"”a civil order that is used to control the minutiae of British people's behaviour"”that forbade her from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.

This case sheds harsh light not only on the Victorian-style petty prudishness of our rulers, who seriously believe they can make sexually expressive women timid again by dragging them to court, but on the tyranny of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders themselves. Introduced by our authoritarian Labour government in 1998, anyone can apply for an ASBO to stop anyone else from doing something that they find irritating, "alarming," or "threatening."

Local magistrates' courts issue the orders, sometimes on the basis of hearsay evidence (which is permissible in "ASBO cases"). In short, the applicant for an ASBO does not have to go through the normal rigors of the criminal justice system in order to get a civil ruling preventing someone he doesn't like from doing something that he finds "alarming" or "dangerous." Once you have been branded with an ASBO, if you break its conditions"”by having noisy sex in your own home, for example"”you are potentially guilty of a crime and can be imprisoned.

The ASBO system has turned much of Britain into a curtain-twitching, neighbor-watching, noise-policing gang of spies. The relative ease with which one can apply to the authorities for an ASBO positively invites people to use the system to punish their foes or the irritants who live in their neighborhoods.

I don't really have much time to comment on this, but is there any need?  And for those smug enough to think this will never happen in the US, just look on college campuses today, where a number of universities are coming awfully close to creating a right not to be offended, and allowing students to define crime as anything that offends them.  And it almost goes without saying that such standards tend to be enforced unevenly, depending on the ideology of those who happen to be in charge.

Vampiric Regeneration

How can you get free power?  Well, one way is to steal it from other people.  And if you steal it in small enough bites from a lot of people, they may never notice.

This seems to be the basic idea in this article in the Guardian, whose author clearly attended lots of journalism classes while studiously avoiding any class that might have made mention of the first law of thermodynamics.

"Green" speed bumps that will generate electricity as cars drive over them are to be introduced on Britain's roads. The hi-tech "sleeping policemen" will power street lights, traffic lights and road signs in a pilot scheme in London that could be rolled out nationwide.

Speed bumps have long been the bane of motorists' lives, but these will capture the kinetic energy of vehicles.

Peter Hughes, the designer behind the idea, said: "They are speed bumps, but they are not like conventional speed bumps. They don't damage your car or waste petrol when you drive over them - and they have the added advantage that they produce energy free of charge." An engineer who formerly advised the United Nations on renewable energy sources, Hughes added: "If it [the energy] wasn't harnessed by the speed bumps, it would go to waste."

The ramps - which cost between £20,000 and £55,000, depending on size - consist of a series of panels set in a pad virtually flush to the road. As the traffic passes over it, the panels go up and down, setting a cog in motion under the road. This then turns a motor, which produces mechanical energy. A steady stream of traffic passing over the bump can generate 10-36kW of power.

OK, I am willing to believe that you might be able to recover some net energy from a system with this kind of dynamic speed bump replacing an existing static bump  (but I am skeptical, and would want to see the math).  Of course, if you really have a road with a speed bump and so much traffic that it will generate this much power and repay a large investment, then you probably have a road/traffic design issue.

But the article seems to be positing that towns could install these as flat devices --"virtually flush to the road" --  that drivers would hardly notice.  Power from these devices would help the town power its lights and other devices.  But unless these guys have invented the perpetual motion machine, there is no free energy to be had here.  In fact, due to that nasty old spoil-sport, the second law of thermodynamics, there has to be a total system loss.  The device might only steal the equivalent energy of a thousandth of a gallon of gas from each driver, so the driver of each car won't really notice, but the total system expenditure of the thousands of drivers who power the device will still be there, just hidden.  This is a new stealth tax on drivers, dressed up in green clothing.

Next up:  Britain proposes to put windmills on the roofs of electric cars as a power source.  After all, when you are driving at 60 miles per hour, all that wind energy coming past your car is just lost, right?  Once you got the car up to speed, it would just generate its own electricity.  LOL.  I shouldn't laugh, there is probably a billion or so for this in Obama's stimulus bill.

via Tom Nelson.

Ecoterrorism Vindicated in England

Apparently 6 vandals who cause $60,000 damage to a power plant in England were acquitted solely on the argument that they were helping stop global warming -- in other words, they admitted their vandalism, but said it was in a higher cause.

It's been a pretty unusual ten days
but today has been truly extraordinary. At 3.20pm, the jury came back
into court and announced a majority verdict of not guilty! All six defendants - Kevin, Emily, Tim, Will, Ben and Huw - were acquitted of criminal damage.

To recap on how important this verdict is: the defendants
campaigners were accused of causing £30,000 of criminal damage to
Kingsnorth smokestack from painting. The defence was that they had 'lawful excuse' - because they were acting to protect property around the world "in immediate need of protection" from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.

So the testimony centered not on whether they actually vandalized the power plant - they never denied it - but on whether the criminals were correct to fear global warming from power plants.  I don't know much about British law, but this seems to be a terrible precedent.  Or maybe not - does this mean that I can go and legally vandalize every Congressman's house for wasting my money?

Our Bodies, Ourselves

I have written on a number of occasions that I thought it odd that the left (and women's groups in particular) don't see a contradiction between their support for government health care and their long-held abortion beliefs that people should be free of government coercion when it comes to decisions about their body and their health.  These views certainly don't seem compatible in England:

A cancer charity has today published research that shows doctors are keeping
  cancer patients in the dark about new treatments that could extend their lives.

Myeloma UK, which conducted the research, said a quarter of myeloma
  specialists questioned in a survey admitted hiding the facts about
  treatments that may be difficult to obtain on the NHS.

The main reason given was to avoid distressing or confusing patients.

Myeloma is a bone marrow cancer that affects around 3,800 people each year in
  the UK. Of these, 2,600 are likely to die from the disease.

Harry Potter Camping Movie

Apparently, the 7th Harry Potter book will be split into two movies.  Great.  The second part will be killer, but the first will doom us to watching Harry run all over England camping. 

Notice: All the World's Major Problems Have Been Solved

Clearly, all the major problems of the world have been solved, because Arlen Specter wants to focus the Senate's time on the New England Patriots' violation of NFL rules for which they were severely punished and which violations in no way tread on any law, just NFL rules.

In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Senator Arlen Specter,
Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking member of the committee, said
that Goodell would eventually be called before the committee to address
two issues: the league's antitrust exemption in relation to its
television contract and the destruction of the tapes that revealed
spying by the Patriots.

"That requires an explanation," Specter
said. "The N.F.L. has a very preferred status in our country with their
antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about
the integrity of the game. It's analogous to the C.I.A. destruction of
tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed."

Please, to the friends of Arlen Specter:  It is time for an intervention, before the man hurts himself any more. 

Next Up:  Kay Bailey Hutchison calls Jerry Jones in front of Congress to explain why the Cowboys gave up on the running game in the fourth quarter of this year's playoff game against the Giants.

The New Micro-Fascism

Get ready, because global warming will soon be an excuse for government micro-management of any number of everyday behaviors.  We have already seen California's attempt to have the government take control of your home thermostat.  In England, the target is patio heaters:

Britain's growing café culture and taste for alfresco drinking and
dining may be under threat from MEPs who want to ban the patio heater.

A
vote in Brussels today is expected to call on the European Commission
to abolish the heaters to help to tackle climate change. Such a move
could cost the pub and catering trade dear.

Pubs spent about £85
million on patio heaters after the smoking ban was introduced last
year. Besides forcing smokers into the cold there is concern that a ban
on patio heaters could bring a significant cash loss to pubs, cafés and
restaurants.

By the way, something not mentioned in the article, perhaps because it takes a knowledge of actual science and stuff, is that these heaters tend to burn LPG and propane, which due to their molecular structure produce far less CO2 per BTU than other fossil fuels.

One is left to wonder what pareto-style ranking of CO2 reduction opportunities put patio heaters at the top of the list.  In fact, there is no possible rational analysis that would make this a legislative priority.  It is a great illustration of two points about such technocratic endeavors:

  1. Government cannot correct supposed market irrationalities because governments always act more irrational than private players in the market, no matter who is in charge.
  2. Most legislation supposedly to fight global warming is using global warming as a fig leaf to hide the actual reason for the legislation.  My guess in this case is that the sponsors of this legislation have some other reason for wanting the ban, but dress it up as global warming.  This mirrors the larger issues, there socialists, unrepentant Ehrlich admirers,  and anti-globalization loonies have repackaged themselves as fighting global warming and then, surprise, proposed the same government actions they were pushing for pre-global-warming-hysteria.

Nothing New Under the [Rising] Sun

Sixty-six years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which turned out to be about as smart of a strategic move as taunting the New England Patriots just before the game.  During subsequent years, there was an inevitable investigation into why and how the US got caught so flat-footed, and who, if anyone, was to blame.

Decades later, revisionist historians reopened this debate.  In the 1970's, not coincidently in the time of Watergate and lingering questions about the Kennedy assassination and the Gulf of Tonkin, it was fairly popular to blame Pearl Harbor on ... FDR.  The logic was (and still is, among a number of historians) that FDR was anxious to bring the US into the war, but was having trouble doing so given the country's incredibly isolationist outlook during the 1920's and 1930's.  These historians argue that FDR knew about the Pearl Harbor attack but did nothing (or in the most aggressive theories, actually maneuvered to encourage the attack) in order to give FDR an excuse to bring America into the war.  The evidence is basically in three parts:

  • The abjectly unprepared state of the Pearl Harbor base, when there were so many good reasons at the time to be on one's toes (after all, the Japanese were marching all over China, Germany was at the gates of Moscow, and France had fallen) could only be evidence of conspiracy.
  • The most valuable fleet components, the carriers, had at the last minute been called away from Pearl Harbor.  Historians argue that they were moved to protect them from an attack known to be coming to Pearl.  They argue that FDR wanted Pearl to be attacked, but did not want to lose the carriers.
  • Historians have found a number of captured Japanese signals and US intelligence warnings that should have been clear warming of a Pearl Harbor attack.

I have always been pretty skeptical of this theory, for several reasons:

  • First, I always default to Coyote's Law, which says

When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by

  1. A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people    -OR -
  2. Sustained stupidity, confusion and/or incompetence

Assume stupidity.

I think it is more than consistent with human history to assume that if Pearl Harbor was stupidly unprepared, that the reason was in fact stupidity, and not a clever conspiracy

  • The carrier argument is absurd, and is highly influenced by what we know now rather than what we knew in December of 1941.  We know now that the carriers were the most valuable fleet component, but no one really knew it then (except for a few mavericks).  Certainly, if FDR and his top brass knew about the attack, no one would have been of the mindset that the carriers were the most important fleet elements to save.
  • I find it to be fairly unproductive to try to sort through intelligence warnings thirty years after the fact.  One can almost ALWAYS find that some warning or indicator existed for every such event in history.  The problem occurs in real-time, when such warnings are buried in the midst of hundreds of other indicators, and are preceded by years of false warnings of the same event.
  • I don't really deny that FDR probably wanted an excuse to get the country in the war.  However, I have never understood why a wildly succesful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was more necessary than, say, an attack met strongly at the beach.  I can understand why FDR might have allowed the attack to happen, but why would he leave the base undefended.  The country would have gotten wound up about the attack whether 5 ships or 10 were destroyed.

It is interesting how so much of this parallels the logic of the 9/11 conspiracists.  And, in fact, I have the same answer for both:  I don't trust the government.  I don't put such actions and motivations past our leaders.  But I don't think the facts support either conspiracy.  And I don't think the government is capable of maintaining such a conspiracy for so long. 

An Observation About Republican Presidential Candidates

I almost never ever post on politics and political races, but I had an interesting conversation the other day.  As a secular libertarian, I find no one (beyond Ron Paul) among the Republican candidates even the least bit interesting.  I trust none of them to pursue free market and small government principals, and several, including McCain, Giuliani, and Huckabee, have track records of large government intrusiveness.

What I found interesting was a conversation with a friend of mine who self-identifies as a Christian conservative  (yes, I know it is out of vogue, but it is perfectly possible to have quality friendships with people of different political stripes, particularly considering that I am married to a New England liberal Democrat).  My Christian conservative friend said he found no Republican he was really interested in voting for.

I find it interesting that the Republicans (again with the exception of Ron Paul, who I think they would like to disavow) unable to field a candidate that appeals to either of its traditional constituencies.  It strikes me the party is heading back to its roots in the 1970s in the Nixon-Rockefeller days.  Yuk.

Update:  Which isn't to necessarily say the Democrats have everything figured out.  For example, in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, they seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry.  Anyone remember how she conducted her infamous health care task force?  I seem to remember she pioneered many of the practices for which Democrats tried to impeach Dick Cheney this week.

An Observation About Republican Presidential Candidates

I almost never ever post on politics and political races, but I had an interesting conversation the other day.  As a secular libertarian, I find no one (beyond Ron Paul) among the Republican candidates even the least bit interesting.  I trust none of them to pursue free market and small government principals, and several, including McCain, Giuliani, and Huckabee, have track records of large government intrusiveness.

What I found interesting was a conversation with a friend of mine who self-identifies as a Christian conservative  (yes, I know it is out of vogue, but it is perfectly possible to have quality friendships with people of different political stripes, particularly considering that I am married to a New England liberal Democrat).  My Christian conservative friend said he found no Republican he was really interested in voting for.

I find it interesting that the Republicans (again with the exception of Ron Paul, who I think they would like to disavow) unable to field a candidate that appeals to either of its traditional constituencies.  It strikes me the party is heading back to its roots in the 1970s in the Nixon-Rockefeller days.  Yuk.

Update:  Which isn't to necessarily say the Democrats have everything figured out.  For example, in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, they seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry.  Anyone remember how she conducted her infamous health care task force?  I seem to remember she pioneered many of the practices for which Democrats tried to impeach Dick Cheney this week.

Why Aren't Women Fighting the Health Care Trojan Horse?

Reader Robert Hammond, who always sends me good stuff, pointed out this article from the Evening Standard about proposed new health care rules in England.  Frequent readers will know that I have long argued that nationalized or single-payer health care is a Trojan Horse for fascism (and much more here) in the form of micro-management of individual decisions.  If your personal choices that in the past only put yourself at risk now cost other taxpayers money, then those other taxpayers are going to try to redirect your choices.

Failing to follow a healthy lifestyle could lead to free NHS treatment being denied under the Tory plans. 

Patients would be handed "NHS Health Miles Cards" allowing them to earn
reward points for losing weight, giving up smoking, receiving
immunisations or attending regular health screenings.

Like a
supermarket loyalty card, the points could be redeemed as discounts on
gym membership and fresh fruit and vegetables, or even give priority
for other public services - such as jumping the queue for council
housing.

But heavy smokers, the obese and binge drinkers who
were a drain on the NHS could be denied some routine treatments such as
hip replacements until they cleaned up their act.

Those who
abused the system - by calling an ambulance when a trip to the GP would
be sufficient, or telephoning out of hours with needless queries -
could also be penalised.

The report calls for a greater
emphasis on the "citizen's responsibility" to be healthy and says no
one should expect taxpayers to fund their unhealthy lifestyles
.

Here is the real problem:  This is absolutely logical.  There is nothing at all incorrect about the last statement for example.  This is not an abuse or an excess.  This is a completely predictable result of single-payer health care.  Any single-payer is going to have these incentives, but when the single-payer is the government, they not only have the incentives but the full coercive power to do something about it.  I am exhausted with the statist defense against such outcomes that "well, its just the particular individuals in charge -- if we could get the right guys in there, it would work great."  No.  The right guys are never in there, despite technocrats' big dreams, in part because the incentives in place turn even the right guys into the wrong guys. 

One of the reasons we spend so much on health care today is because most of us can do so without any personal financial cost.  Few of us (I am an exception, with a very high deductible policy) actually have to make cost-benefit trade offs in each of our health care purchases like we do in contrast for ... absolutely everything else we buy except health care.   The results are predictable.  We get pissed off when our insurance company denies coverage on some procedure or cost, we is part of the base-level of discontent that health care "reformers" draw on.  But it is stunning to me that people who have discontent with their current insurer feel like things will be better with the government!

Hey, this sounds like a women's issue!

What this article really shows is that by going with a single-payer government system, each of us would be ceding the decisions about our health care, our bodies, and even lifestyle to the government.  So surely women's groups, who were at the forefront of fighting against government intrusion into our decisions about our bodies, is out there leading the fight against government health care.  WRONG!  Their privacy arguments stand out today as sham libertarian arguments that applied only narrowly to abortion.  It's clear that as long as they can get full access to abortion, women's groups are A-OK with government intrusion into people's decisions about their bodies.

So please, dedicated feminists are urged to comment.  How do I relate this T-shirt from the NOW web store:
Tskyl2

With this button from the NOW home page:
Codebluebutton

And a bit of text from their site:

People need and deserve universal, continuous,
and accessible health coverage that is provided by a single payer and
does not require full-time employment and a beneficent employer.
Learn more with our action toolkit....

With the recent release of Michael Moore's new movie, "SiCKO", and the
introduction in Congress of a bill to provide health insurance to all
U.S. residents, the movement for universal single-payer health
insurance is gaining momentum. This toolkit is provided to help you
take action on this important issue....

Health care is a right, not a privilege.

What Do We Know and How Well Do We Know It

"Consensus" is an absurd word to apply to science.  It is more accurate to say that we have a series of hypotheses about the universe with varying levels of confidence.  LuboÅ¡ Motl has a post to get all you physics geeks arguing:  His estimate of the probability certain hypotheses about the universe are correct.  Some examples:

  • 99.999% - String theory is a mathematically consistent theory
    including quantum gravity, even non-perturbatively, at least in some
    highly supersymmetric vacua
  • 99.999% - General relativity
    correctly predicts phenomena such as frame dragging and classical
    gravitational waves in the real world
  • 99.995% - Black holes exist  ...
  • 60% - At very high energy scales, a GUT theory with unified gauge
    interactions becomes more natural zeroth approximation: GUT is correct
  • 50% - Supersymmetry will be found at the LHC
  • 40%
    - The Hartle-Hawking wavefunction or its generalization that will
    require the author(s) to cite Hartle and Hawking correctly predicts
    non-trivial features of the initial conditions of the Universe...
  • 0.0001% - Loop quantum gravity, with the metric as the only and
    well-defined degree of freedom and with quantized area, is a correct
    description of gravity in the real world at the Planck scale
  • 0.00001%
    - One of the ESP phenomena measured in the Princeton lab actually
    exists and can be measured again with a similar equipment

Many more here.

Here are some of my own:

  • 95% - Probability that the Raiders, Browns, and Lions will all botch their first draft picks next weekend
  • 85% - Probability someone will introduce legislation in Congress in the next 7 days in direct response to the Va Tech shooting rampage
  • 80% - Probability that man-made CO2 is contributing a non-zero effect to global temperature
  • 70% - Probability that Barry Bonds will break the home run record this season
  • 60% - Probability that Prince Charles will ever serve as King of England
  • 50% - Probability that all-electric vehicles will make up more than 10% of the auto market in the US in ten years
  • 5% - Probability that man-made CO2 will contribute more than 2 degrees C warming in the next 50 years
  • 5% - Probability of meaningful earmark reform getting passed in Congress
  • 5% - Probability that ethanol or other bio fuels will make any measurable reduction in oil imports.
  • 1% - Probability that the costs of CO2 reduction will be less than the benefits of CO2 reduction
  • 1% - Probability that a true libertarian candidate will be elected president in the next 20 years