Posts tagged ‘media’

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 5a. Arguments For Attributing Past Warming to Man

This is part A of Chapter 5 of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made (this article); B) Natural Attribution

Having established that the Earth has warmed over the past century or so (though with some dispute over how much), we turn to the more interesting -- and certainly more difficult -- question of finding causes for past warming.  Specifically, for the global warming debate, we would like to know how much of the warming was due to natural variations and how much was man-made.   Obviously this is hard to do, because no one has two thermometers that show the temperature with and without man's influence.

I like to begin each chapter with the IPCC's official position, but this is a bit hard in this case because they use a lot of soft words rather than exact numbers.  They don't say 0.5 of the 0.8C is due to man, or anything so specific.   They use phrases like "much of the warming" to describe man's affect.  However, it is safe to say that most advocates of catastrophic man-made global warming theory will claim that most or all of the last century's warming is due to man, and that is how we have put it in our framework below:

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By the way, the "and more" is not a typo -- there are a number of folks who will argue that the world would have actually cooled without manmade CO2 and thus manmade CO2 has contributed more than the total measured warming.  This actually turns out to be an important argument, since the totality of past warming is not enough to be consistent with high sensitivity, high feedback warming forecasts.  But we will return to this in part C of this chapter.

Past, Mostly Abandoned Arguments for Attribution to Man

There have been and still are many different approaches to the attributions problem.  In a moment, we will discuss the current preferred approach.  However, it is worth reviewing two other approaches that have mostly been abandoned but which had a lot of currency in the media for some time, in part because both were in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.

Before we get into them, I want to take a step back and briefly discuss what is called paleo-climatology, which is essentially the study of past climate before the time when we had measurement instruments and systematic record-keeping for weather.   Because we don't have direct measurements, say, of the temperature in the year 1352, scientists must look for some alternate measure, called a "proxy,"  that might be correlated with a certain climate variable and thus useful in estimating past climate metrics.   For example, one might look at the width of tree rings, and hypothesize that varying widths in different years might correlate to temperature or precipitation in those years.  Most proxies take advantage of such annual layering, as we have in tree rings.

One such methodology uses ice cores.  Ice in certain places like Antarctica and Greenland is laid down in annual layers.  By taking a core sample, characteristics of the ice can be measured at different layers and matched to approximate years.  CO2 concentrations can actually be measured in air bubbles in the ice, and atmospheric temperatures at the time the ice was laid down can be estimated from certain oxygen isotope ratios in the ice.  The result is that one can plot a chart going back hundreds of thousands of years that estimates atmospheric CO2 and temperature.  Al Gore showed this chart in his movie, in a really cool presentation where the chart wrapped around three screens:

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As Gore points out, this looks to be a smoking gun for attribution of temperature changes to CO2.  From this chart, temperature and CO2 concentrations appear to be moving in lockstep.  From this, CO2 doesn't seem to be a driver of temperatures, it seems to be THE driver, which is why Gore often called it the global thermostat.

But there turned out to be a problem, which is why this analysis no longer is treated as a smoking gun, at least for the attribution issue.  Over time, scientists got better at taking finer and finer cuts of the ice cores, and what they found is that when they looked on a tighter scale, the temperature was rising (in the black spikes of the chart) on average 800 years before the CO2 levels (in red) rose.

This obviously throws a monkey wrench in the causality argument.  Rising CO2 can hardly be the cause of rising temperatures if the CO2 levels are rising after temperatures.

It is now mostly thought that what this chart represents is the liberation of dissolved CO2 from oceans as temperatures rise.  Oceans have a lot of dissolved CO2, and as the oceans get hotter, they will give up some of this CO2 to the atmosphere.

The second outdated attribution analysis we will discuss is perhaps the most famous:  The Hockey Stick.  Based on a research paper by Michael Mann when he was still a grad student, it was made famous in Al Gore's movie as well as numerous other press articles.  It became the poster child, for a few years, of the global warming movement.

So what is it?  Like the ice core chart, it is a proxy analysis attempting to reconstruct temperature history, in this case over the last 1000 years or so.  Mann originally used tree rings, though in later versions he has added other proxies, such as from organic matter laid down in sediment layers.

Before the Mann hockey stick, scientists (and the IPCC) believed the temperature history of the last 1000 years looked something like this:

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Generally accepted history had a warm period from about 1100-1300 called the Medieval Warm Period which was warmer than it is today, with a cold period in the 17th and 18th centuries called the "Little Ice Age".  Temperature increases since the little ice age could in part be thought of as a recovery from this colder period.  Strong anecdotal evidence existed from European sources supporting the existence of both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.  For example, I have taken several history courses on the high Middle Ages and every single professor has described the warm period from 1100-1300 as creating a demographic boom which defined the era (yes, warmth was a good thing back then).  In fact, many will point to the famines in the early 14th century that resulted from the end of this warm period as having weakened the population and set the stage for the Black Death.

However, this sort of natural variation before the age where man burned substantial amounts of fossil fuels created something of a problem for catastrophic man-made global warming theory.  How does one convince the population of catastrophe if current warming is within the limits of natural variation?  Doesn't this push the default attribution of warming towards natural factors and away from man?

The answer came from Michael Mann (now Dr. Mann but actually produced originally before he finished grad school).  It has been dubbed the hockey stick for its shape:

 

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The reconstructed temperatures are shown in blue, and gone are the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, which Mann argued were local to Europe and not global phenomena.  The story that emerged from this chart is that before industrialization, global temperatures were virtually flat, oscillating within a very narrow band of a few tenths of a degree.  However, since 1900, something entirely new seems to be happening, breaking the historical pattern.  From this chart, it looks like modern man has perhaps changed the climate.  This shape, with the long flat historical trend and the sharp uptick at the end, is why it gets the name "hockey stick."

Oceans of ink and electrons have been spilled over the last 10+ years around the hockey stick, including a myriad of published books.  In general, except for a few hard core paleoclimatologists and perhaps Dr. Mann himself, most folks have moved on from the hockey stick as a useful argument in the attribution debate.  After all, even if the chart is correct, it provides only indirect evidence of the effect of man-made CO2.

Here are a few of the critiques:

  • Note that the real visual impact of the hockey stick comes from the orange data on the far right -- the blue data alone doesn't form much of a hockey stick.  But the orange data is from an entirely different source, in fact an entirely different measurement technology -- the blue data is from tree rings, and the orange is form thermometers.  Dr. Mann bristles at the accusation that he "grafted" one data set onto the other, but by drawing the chart this way, that is exactly what he did, at least visually.  Why does this matter?  Well, we have to be very careful with inflections in data that occur exactly at the point that where we change measurement technologies -- we are left with the suspicion that the change in slope is due to differences in the measurement technology, rather than in the underlying phenomenon being measured.
  • In fact, well after this chart was published, we discovered that Mann and other like Keith Briffa actually truncated the tree ring temperature reconstructions (the blue line) early.  Note that the blue data ends around 1950.  Why?  Well, it turns out that many tree ring reconstructions showed temperatures declining after 1950.  Does this mean that thermometers were wrong?  No, but it does provide good evidence that the trees are not accurately following current temperature increases, and so probably did not accurately portray temperatures in the past.
  • If one looks at the graphs of all of Mann's individual proxy series that are averaged into this chart, astonishingly few actually look like hockey sticks.  So how do they average into one?  McIntyre and McKitrick in 2005 showed that Mann used some highly unusual and unprecedented-to-all-but-himself statistical methods that could create hockey sticks out of thin air.  The duo fed random data into Mann's algorithm and got hockey sticks.
  • At the end of the day, most of the hockey stick (again due to Mann's averaging methods) was due to samples from just a handful of bristle-cone pine trees in one spot in California, trees whose growth is likely driven by a number of non-temperature factors like precipitation levels and atmospheric CO2 fertilization.   Without these few trees, most of the hockey stick disappears.  In later years he added in non-tree-ring series, but the results still often relied on just a few series, including the Tiljander sediments where Mann essentially flipped the data upside down to get the results he wanted.  Taking out the bristlecone pines and the abused Tiljander series made the hockey stick go away again.

There have been plenty of other efforts at proxy series that continue to show the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age as we know them from the historical record

 

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As an aside, Mann's hockey stick was always problematic for supporters of catastrophic man-made global warming theory for another reason.  The hockey stick implies that the world's temperatures are, in absence of man, almost dead-flat stable.   But this is hardly consistent with the basic hypothesis, discussed earlier, that the climate is dominated by strong positive feedbacks that take small temperature variations and multiply them many times.   If Mann's hockey stick is correct, it could also be taken as evidence against high climate sensitivities that are demanded by the catastrophe theory.

 

The Current Lead Argument for Attribution of Past Warming to Man

So we are still left wondering, how do climate scientists attribute past warming to man?  Well, to begin, in doing so they tend to focus on the period after 1940, when large-scale fossil fuel combustion really began in earnest.   Temperatures have risen since 1940, but in fact nearly all of this rise occurred in the 20 year period from 1978 to 1998:

 

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To be fair, and better understand the thinking at the time, let's put ourselves in the shoes of scientists around the turn of the century and throw out what we know happened after that date.  Scientists then would have been looking at this picture:

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Sitting in the year 2000, the recent warming rate might have looked dire .. nearly 2C per century...

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Or possibly worse if we were on an accelerating course...

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Scientists began to develop a hypothesis that this temperature rise was occurring too rapidly to be natural, that it had to be at least partially man-made.  I have always thought this a slightly odd conclusion, since the slope from this 20-year period looks almost identical to the slope centered around the 1930's, which was very unlikely to have much human influence.

 

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But never-the-less, the hypothesis that the 1978-1998 temperature rise was too fast to be natural gained great currency.  But how does one prove it?

What scientists did was to build computer models to simulate the climate.  They then ran the computer models twice.  The first time they ran them with only natural factors, or at least only the natural factors they knew about or were able to model (they left a lot out, but we will get to that in time).  These models were not able to produce the 1978-1998 warming rates.  Then, they re-ran the models with manmade CO2, and particularly with a high climate sensitivity to CO2 based on the high feedback assumptions we discussed in an earlier chapter.   With these models, they were able to recreate the 1978-1998 temperature rise.   As Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT described the process:

What was done, was to take a large number of models that could not reasonably simulate known patterns of natural behavior (such as ENSO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation), claim that such models nonetheless accurately depicted natural internal climate variability, and use the fact that these models could not replicate the warming episode from the mid seventies through the mid nineties, to argue that forcing was necessary and that the forcing must have been due to man.

Another way to put this argument is "we can't think of anything natural that could be causing this warming, so by default it must be man-made.  With various increases in sophistication, this remains the lead argument in favor of attribution of past warming to man.

In part B of this chapter, we will discuss what natural factors were left out of these models, and I will take my own shot at a simple attribution analysis.

The next section, Chapter 6 Part B, on natural attribution is here

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 4a. Actual Temperature Data

This is the fourth chapter of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data (this article);   B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made; B) Natural Attribution

In our last chapter, we ended a discussion on theoretical future warming rates by saying that no amount of computer modelling was going to help us choose between various temperature sensitivities and thus warming rates.  Only observational data was going to help us determine how the Earth actually responds to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.  So in this chapter we turn to the next part of our framework, which is our observations of Earth's temperatures, which is among the data we might use to support or falsify the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.

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The IPCC position is that the world (since the late 19th century) has warmed about 0.8C.  This is a point on which many skeptics will disagree, though perhaps not as substantially as one might expect from the media.   Most skeptics, myself included, would agree that the world has certainly warmed over the last 100-150 years.  The disagreement tends to be in the exact amount of warming, with many skeptics contending that the amount of warming has been overstated due to problems with temperature measurement and aggregation methodology.

For now, we will leave those issues aside until part B of this section, where we will discuss some of these issues.  One reason to do so is to focus, at least at first, on the basic point of agreement that the Earth has indeed warmed somewhat.  But another reason to put these differences over magnitude aside is that we will find, a few chapters hence, that they essentially don't matter.  Even the IPCC's 0.8C estimate of past warming does not support its own estimates of temperature sensitivity to CO2.

Surface Temperature Record

The most obvious way to measure temperatures on the Earth is with thermometers near the ground.   We have been measuring the temperature at a few select locations for hundreds of years, but it really is only in the last century that we have fairly good coverage of the land surface.  And even then our coverage of places like the Antarctic, central Africa, parts of South America, and all of the oceans (which cover 75% of the Earth) is even today still spotty.  So coming up with some sort of average temperature for the Earth is not a straight averaging exercise -- data must be infilled and estimated, making the process complicated and subject to a variety of errors.

But the problem is more difficult than just data gaps.  How does one actually average a temperature from Denver with a temperature from San Diego?  While a few folks attempt such a straight average, scientists have developed a theory that one can more easily average what are known as temperature anomalies than one can average the temperature itself.  What is an anomaly?  Essentially, for a given thermometer, researchers will establish an average for that thermometer for a particular day of the year.  The exact time period or even the accuracy of this average is not that important, as long as the same time period is used consistently.  Then, the anomaly for any given measurement is the deviation of the measured temperature from its average.   So if the average historical temperature for this day of the year is 25C and the actual measured for the day is 26C, the anomaly for today at this temperature station is +1.0C.

Scientists then develop programs that spatially average these temperature anomalies for the whole Earth, while also adjusting for a myriad of factors, from time-of-day changes in measurement to technology changes over time of the temperature stations to actual changes in the physical location of the measurement.  This is a complicated enough a task, with enough explicit choices that must be made about techniques and adjustments, that there are many different temperature metrics floating around out there, many of which get different results from essentially the same data.  The Hadley Center in England's CRUT4 global temperature metric is generally considered the gold standard, and is the one used preferentially by the IPCC.  Its metric is shown below, with the monthly temperature anomaly in dark blue and the 5 year moving average (centered on its mid-point):

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Again, the zero point of the chart is arbitrary and merely depends on the period of time chosen as the base or average.  Looking at the moving average, one can see the temperature anomaly bounces around -0.3C in the late 19th century and has been around +0.5C over the last several years, which is how we get to about 0.8C warming.

Satellite Temperature Record

There are other ways to take temperature measurements, however.  Another approach is to use satellites to measure surface temperatures (or at least near-surface temperatures).   Satellites measure temperature by measuring the thermal microwave emissions of oxygen atoms in the lower troposphere (perhaps 0-3 miles above the Earth).  Satellites have the advantage of being able to look at the entire Earth without gaps, and are not subject to siting biases for surface temperatures stations (which will be discussed in our part B of this chapter).

The satellite record does, however, rely on a shifting array of satellites all of which have changing orbits for which adjustments must be made.  Of necessity, the satellite record cannot reach as far back into the past.  And the satellites are not actually measuring the temperature of the Earth, but rather a temperature a mile or two up.  Whether that matters is subject to debate, but the clincher for me is that the IPCC and most climate models have always shown that the first and most anthropogenic warming should show up in exactly this spot -- the lower troposphere -- which makes observation of this zone a particularly good way to look for a global warming signal.

Roy Spencer and John Christy have what is probably the leading satellite temperature metric, called "UAH" as a shorthand for University of Alabama, Huntsville's space science center.  The UAH record looks like this:

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Note that the absolute magnitude of the anomaly isn't comparable between the surface and satellite record, as they use different base periods, but changes and growth rates in the anomalies should be comparable between the two indices.

The first thing to note is that, though they are different, both the satellite and surface temperature records show warming since 1980.  For all that some skeptics may want to criticize the authors of the surface temperature databases, and there indeed some grounds for criticism, these issues should not distract us from the basic fact that in every temperature record we have (including other technologies like radiosonde balloons), we see recent warming.

In terms of magnitude, the two indices do not show the same amount of warming -- since 1980 the satellite temperature record shows about 30% less warming than does  the surface temperature record for the same period.   So which is right?  We will discuss this in more depth in part B, but the question is not made any easier by the fact that the surface records are compiled by prominent alarmist scientists while the satellite records are maintained by prominent skeptic scientists.  Which causes each side to accuse the other of having its thumb on the scale, so to speak.  I personally like the satellite record because of its larger coverage areas and the fact that its manual adjustments (which are required of both technologies) are for a handful of instruments rather than thousands, and are thus easier to manage and get right.  But I am also increasingly of the opinion that the differences are minor, and that neither are consistent with catastrophic forecasts.

So instead of getting ourselves involved in the dueling temperature data set food fight (we will dip our toe into this in part B), let's instead apply both these data sets to several propositions we see frequently in the media.  We will quickly see the answers we reach do not depend on the data set chosen.

Test #1:  Is Global Warming Accelerating

One frequent meme you will hear all the time is that "global warming is accelerating."  As of today it had 550,000 results on Google.  For example:

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So.  Is that true?  They can't print it if its not true, right (lol)?  Let's look first at the satellite record through the end of 2015 when this presentation was put together (there is an El Nino driven spike in 2 months after this chart was made, which does not affect the conclusions that follow in the least, but I will update to include ASAP).

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If you want a name for this chart, I could call it the "bowl of cherries" because it has become a cherry-picker's delight.   Everyone in the debate can find a starting point and an end point in this jagged data to find any trend they want to find.  So how do we find an objective basis to define end points for this analysis?  Well, my background is more in economic analysis.  Economists have the same problem in looking at trends for things like employment or productivity because there is a business cycle that adds volatility to these numbers above and beyond any long term trend.  One way they manage this is to measure variables from peak to peak of the economic cycle.

I have done something similar.  The equivalent cyclical peaks in the temperature world are probably the very high Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or El Nino, events.  There was one in 1998 and there is one occurring right now in late 2015/early 2016.  So I defined my period as 18 years from peak to peak.  By this timing, the satellite record shows temperatures to be virtually dead flat for those 18 years.  This is "the pause" that you may have heard of in climate debates.   Such an extended pause is not predicted by global warming theory, particularly when the theory (as in the IPCC main case) assumes high temperature sensitivities to CO2 and low natural variation in temperatures.

So if global warming were indeed accelerating, we would expect the warming rate over the last 18 years to be higher than the rate over the previous 18 years.  But just the opposite is true:

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While "the pause" does not in and of itself disprove the theory of catastrophic manmade global warming, it does easily falsify the myriad statements you see that global warming is accelerating.  At least for the last 20 years, it has been decelerating.

By the way, this is not somehow an artifact of just the satellite record.  This is what the surface record looks like for the same periods:

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Though it shows (as we discussed earlier) higher overall warming rates, the surface temperature record also shows a deceleration rather than acceleration over the last 20 years.

 

Test #2:  Are Temperatures Rising Faster than Expected

OK, let's consider another common meme, that the "earth is warming faster than predicted."

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Again, there over 500,000 Google matches for this meme.  So how do we test it?  Well, certainly not against the last IPCC forecasts -- they are only a few years old.  The first real high-sensitivity or catastrophic forecast we have is from James Hansen, often called the father of global warming.

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In June of 1988, Hanson made a seminal presentation to Congress on global warming, including this very chart (sorry for the sucky 1980's graphics).  In his testimony, he presented his models for the Earth's temperature, which showed a good fit with history**.  Using his model, he then created three forecasts:  Scenario A, with high rates of CO2 emissions;  Scenario B, with more modest emissions; and scenario C, with drastic worldwide emissions cuts (plus volcanoes, that tend to belch dust and chemicals that have a cooling effect).  Surprisingly, we can't even get agreement today about which forecast for CO2 production was closer to the mark (throwing in the volcanoes makes things hard to parse) but it is pretty clear that over the 30 years after this forecast, the Earth's CO2 output has been somewhere between A and B.

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As it turns out, it doesn't matter whether we actually followed the CO2 emissions from A or B.  The warming forecasts for scenario A and B turn out to be remarkably similar.  In the past, I used to just overlay temperature actuals onto Hansen's chart, but it is a little hard to get the zero point right and it led to too many food fights.  So let's pull the scenario A and B forecasts off the chart and compare them a different way.

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The left of chart shows Hanson's scenario A and B, scanned right from his chart.  Scenario A implies a warming rate from 1986 to 2016 of 3.1C per century.  Scenario B is almost as high, at 2.8C per century.  But as you can see on the right, the actual warming rates we have seen over the same period are well below these forecasts.  The surface temperature record shows only about half the warming, and the satellite record shows only about a third the warming, that Hansen predicted.   There is no justification for saying that recent warming rates have been higher than expected or forecast -- in fact, the exact opposite has been true.

We see the same thing when looking at past IPCC forecasts.  At each of its every-five-year assessments, the IPCC has included a forecast range for future temperatures.  In this case, though, we don't have to create a comparison with actuals because the most recent (5th) IPCC Assessment did it for us:

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The colored bands are their past forecasts.  The grey areas are the error bands on the forecast.  The black dots are global temperatures (which actually are shown with error bars, which is good practice but seldom done except perhaps when they are trying to stretch to get into the forecast range).  As you can see, temperatures have been so far below forecasts that they are dropping out of the low end of even the most generous forecast bands.  If temperatures were rising faster than expected, the black dots would be above the orange and yellow bands.  We therefore have to come to the conclusion that, at least for the last 20-30 years, temperatures have not been rising faster than expected, they have been rising slower than expected.

Day vs. Night

There is one other phenomenon we can see in the temperature data that we will come back to in later chapters:  that much of the warming over the last century has been at night, rather than in the daytime.   There are two possible explanations for this.  The first is that most anthropogenic warming models predict more night time warming than they do day time warming.  The other possibility is that a portion of the warming in the 20th century temperature record is actually spurious bias from the urban heat island effect due to siting of temperature stations near cities, since urban heat island warming shows up mainly at night.  We will discuss the latter effect in part B of this chapter.

Whatever the cause, much of the warming we have seen has occurred at night, rather than during the day.  Here is a great example from the Amherst, MA temperature station (Amherst was the first location where I gave this presentation, if that seems an odd choice).

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As you can see, the warming rate since 1945 is 5 times higher at night than during the day.  This directly affects average temperatures since daily average temperature for a location in the historic record is the simple average of the daily high and daily low.  Yes, I know that this is not exactly accurate, but given technology in the past, this is the best that could be done.

The news media likes to cite examples of heat waves and high temperature records as a "proof" of global warming.   We will discuss this later, but this is obviously a logical fallacy -- one can't prove a trend in noisy data simply by citing isolated data points in one tail of the distribution.  But it is also fallacious for another reason -- we are not actually seeing any upwards trends in high temperature records, at least for daytime highs:

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To get this chart, we obviously have to eliminate newer temperature stations from the data set -- any temperature station that is only 20 years old will have all of its all time records in the last 20 years (you would be surprised at how many otherwise reputable scientists miss simple things like this).  Looking at just the temperature stations in the US we have a long record for, we see with the black line that there is really no upwards trend in the number of high temperature records (Tmax) being set.   The 1930s were brutally hot, and if not for some manual adjustments we will discuss in part B of this section, they would likely still show as the hottest recent era for the US.   It turns out, with the grey line (Tmin), that while there is still no upward trend, we are actually seeing more high temperature records being set with daily lows (the highest low, as it were) than we are with daily highs.  The media is, essentially, looking in the wrong place, but I sympathize because a) broiling hot daytime highs are sexier and b) it is brutally hard to talk about highest low temperatures without being confusing as hell.

In our next chapter, or really part B of this chapter, we will discuss some of the issues that may be leading the surface temperature record to be exaggerated, or at least inaccurate.

Chapter 4, Part B on problems with the surface temperature record continues here.

If you want to skip Part B, and get right on with the main line of the argument, you can go straight to Chapter 5, part A, which starts in on the question of how much of past warming can be attributed to man.

 

** Footnote:  The history of Wall Street is full of bankrupt people whose models exactly matched history.  I have done financial and economic modeling for decades, and it is surprisingly easy to force multi-variable models to match history.  The real test is how well the model works going forward.  Both Hanson's 1988 models and the IPCC's many models do an awesome job matching history, but quickly go off the rails in future years.  I am reminded of a simple but famous example of the perfect past correlation between certain NFL outcomes and Presidential election outcomes.   This NFL model of presidential elections perfectly matches history, but one would be utterly mad to bet future elections based on it.

Net Neutrality: I Told Your So

From the WSJ (emphasis added):

Netflix now admits that for the past five years, all through the debate on net neutrality, it was deliberately slowing its videos watched by users on AT&T and Verizon’s wireless networks. The company did so for good reason—to protect users from overage penalties. But it never told users at a time when Netflix was claiming carriers generally were deliberately slowing its service to protect their own TV businesses—a big lie, it turned out.

All this has brought considerable and well-deserved obloquy on the head of Netflix CEOReed Hastings for his role in inviting extreme Obama utility regulation of the Internet. Others deserve blame too. Google lobbied the administration privately but was too chicken to speak up publicly against utility regulation.

But Netfix appears to have acted out of especially puerile and venal motives. Netflix at the time was trying to use political pressure to cut favorable deals to connect directly to last-mile operators like Comcast and Verizon—a penny-ante consideration worth a few million dollars at best, for which Netflix helped create a major public policy wrong-turn.

This is what I wrote about net neutrality a couple of years ago:

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like.  There is a battle that goes on in the marketplace in virtually every communication medium between content creators and content deliverers.  We can certainly see this in cable TV, as media companies and the cable companies that deliver their product occasionally have battles that break out in public.   But one could argue similar things go on even in, say, shipping, where magazine publishers push for special postal rates and Amazon negotiates special bulk UPS rates.

In fact, this fight for rents across a vertical supply chain exists in virtually every industry.  Consumers will pay so much for a finished product.  Any vertical supply chain is constantly battling over how much each step in the chain gets of the final consumer price.

What "net neutrality" actually means is that certain people, including apparently the President, want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators (no surprise given Hollywood's support for Democrats).  Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP's a lot of money to provide.  But Netflix doesn't want the ISP's to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses - Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion's share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it.  Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators....

I am still pretty sure the net effect of these regulations, whether they really affect net neutrality or not, will be to disarm ISP's in favor of content providers in the typical supply chain vertical wars that occur in a free market.  At the end of the day, an ISP's last resort in negotiating with a content provider is to shut them out for a time, just as the content provider can do the same in reverse to the ISP's customers.  Banning an ISP from doing so is like banning a union from striking.

 

When You Give Up On Allocating Resources via Markets and Prices, All That is Left is Interest Group Politics

One of the ugly facts about how we manage water is that by eschewing markets and prices to allocate scarce water, all that is left is command and control allocation to match supply and demand.  The uglier fact is that politicians like it that way.  A golf course that pays a higher market rate for water doesn't help a politician one bit.  A golf course that has to beg for water through a political process is a source of campaign donations for life.

In a free society without an intrusive government, it would not matter whether California almond growers were loved or hated.  If people did not like them, then they just wouldn't buy their product.  But in California, the government holds the power of life or death over businesses through a number of levers, not least of which is water.

Almonds have become the Left's] new bête noir. The nut is blamed for exacerbating the California drought, overtaxing honeybee colonies, starving salmon of river water, and price-gauging global consumers. Almonds may be loved by consumers, but almond growers, it seems, are increasingly despised in the media. In 2014, The Atlantic published a melodramatic essay, “The Dark Side of Almond Use”—with the ominous subtitle, “People are eating almonds in unprecedented amounts. Is that okay?” If no one much cared that California agriculture was in near depression for much of the latter twentieth century—and that almonds were hardly worth growing in the 1970s—they now worry that someone is netting $5,000 to $10,000 per acre on the nut.

It is almost too much to bear for a social or environmental activist that a corporate farm of 5,000 acres could in theory clear $30 million a year—without either exploiting poor workers or poisoning the environment, but in providing cool people with a healthy, hip, natural product. The kind of people who eat almond butter and drink almond milk, after all, are the kind of people who tend to endorse liberal causes.

As for almonds worsening the drought: The truth is that the nut uses about the same amount of water per acre as other irrigated California crops such as pasture, alfalfa, tree fruit, pistachios, cotton, or rice. In fact, almonds require a smaller percentage of yearly irrigation use than their percentage of California farmland calls for. Nonetheless, the growth of almond farming represents to many a greedy use of scarce collective resource.

The Bloggess's Rules of Social Media

Her rules for social media seem about dead on, at least in actual practice.  Here are a few:

2. Be shocked and outraged at least once a day. If you can’t start a tweet or Facebook status with “HOW DARE YOU” then it’s probably not worth saying.

3. If strangers online disagree with you, devote your day to yelling at them and getting everyone you know to yell at them as well. Don’t just unfollow them. Track them down and destroy them. Put your entire life on hold to focus on all-caps fights with them. It’s pretty much the written equivalent of public scream-crying and people fucking LOVE that.

...

7. Intentionally misread satire. Get really pissed about it. Share it online and demand that everyone else share it too.  Then get more pissed when others clarify that it’s clearly sarcasm. Block those people. Block them as loudly and as hard as you can.

 

Corporations Don't Want to Report Their True Earnings. Why is The Financial Press So Eager to Help?

I totally understand why corporations may wish to push the envelope on earnings adjustments to make their stock look like a better buy.  But why is the financial media generally complicit with this?  Take any earnings announcement you read about or hear on the TV -- almost every single time it turns out that the earnings number quoted by the press, at least in the headline or the TV sound bite, is the company's non-GAAP adjusted number, not their actual GAAP number.

I might be OK with this if this were being done for good reasons, ie if the financial press thought the adjusted number was somehow more representative.  But I don't get this sense at all.  It feels more like the press is just lazy and accepts whatever number is in the press release without digging further.   Often in a longer story you will find the GAAP number, but buried many grafs in.

Oh, and by the way, the two numbers are diverging:

click to enlarge

A good way to think about this chart is that, if you are not careful, you are paying for the bar on the right but getting the bar on the left.  Note that without adjustments, earnings fell pretty substantially in 2015.  It is not at all clear to me why we have not seen this story.

Never, Ever Trust Media Reporting of Scientific (Or Quasi-Scientific) Studies -- The Github Sexism Study and the Response.

I recommend this article (via Tyler Cowen) on the interesting topic of whether women's open source software contributions on Github are accepted more or less frequently than those of men.   The findings of the study are roughly as follows:

They find that women get more (!) requests accepted than men for all of the top ten programming languages. They check some possible confounders – whether women make smaller changes (easier to get accepted) or whether their changes are more likely to serve an immediate project need (again, easier to get accepted) and in fact find the opposite – women’s changes are larger and less likely to serve project needs. That makes their better performance extra impressive....

Among insiders [essentially past contributors], women do the same as men when gender is hidden, but better than men when gender is revealed. In other words, if you know somebody’s a woman, you’re more likely to approve her request than you would be on the merits alone. We can’t quantify exactly how much this is, because the paper doesn’t provide numbers, just graphs. Eyeballing the graph, it looks like being a woman gives you about a 1% advantage. I don’t see any discussion of this result, even though it’s half the study, and as far as I can tell the more statistically significant half.

Among outsiders, women do the same as/better than men when gender is hidden, and the same as/worse than men when gender is revealed. I can’t be more specific than this because the study doesn’t give numbers and I’m trying to eyeball confidence intervals on graphs. The study itself say that women do worse than men when gender is revealed, so since the researchers presumably have access to their real numbers data, that might mean the confidence intervals don’t overlap. From eyeballing the graph, it looks like the difference is 1% – ie, men get their requests approved 64% of the time, and women 63% of the time. Once again, it’s hard to tell by graph-eyeballing whether these two numbers are within each other’s confidence intervals.

OK, so generally good news for women on all fronts -- they do better than men -- with one small area (63 vs 64 percent) where there might or might not be an issue.

This was an interesting side bit:

Oh, one more thing. A commenter on the paper’s pre-print asked for a breakdown by approver gender, and the authors mentioned that “Our analysis (not in this paper — we’ve cut a lot out to keep it crisp) shows that women are harder on other women than they are on men. Men are harder on other men than they are on women.”

Depending on what this means – since it was cut out of the paper to “keep it crisp”, we can’t be sure – it sounds like the effect is mainly from women rejecting other women’s contributions, and men being pretty accepting of them. Given the way the media predictably spun this paper, it is hard for me to conceive of a level of crispness which justifies not providing this information.

So here is an example press report of this study and data:

Here’s Business Insider: Sexism Is Rampant Among Programmers On GitHub, Research Finds. “A new research report shows just how ridiculously tough it can be to be a woman programmer, especially in the very male-dominated world of open-source software….it also shows that women face a giant hurdle of “gender bias” when others assess their work. This research also helps explain the bigger problem: why so many women who do enter tech don’t stick around in it, and often move on to other industries within 10 years. Why bang your head against the wall for longer than a decade?” [EDIT: the title has since been changed]

This article, and many many like it, bear absolutely no relationship to the actual data in the study.  Since the article of course is all most people even read, now a meme is created forever in social media that is just plain wrong.  Nice job media.

Local Media Still Trying to Save the Phoenix NHL Team

No one loves local sports teams more than the local media.  I think they know, but probably won't admit, that they would lose a huge chunk of their remaining readership / viewership for their news products if they did not have local sports to report on.  So you will almost never, ever, ever see local media reporting reporting on the true cost (in terms of handouts of taxpayer money) to retaining pro teams.

My coverage of the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes hockey team goes way back, including even to a mention in a George Will column.  I won't repeat all of that.  I just want to point to this article entitled "Glendale selects AEG to manage Gila River Arena; Arizona Coyotes' future unclear."

Glendale selected facilities-management company AEG Facilities to operate Gila River Arena, likely hastening the city's split with the Arizona Coyotes hockey team.

The telling thing about the article is that it never once explains to readers why this bid award might hasten the split with the Coyotes.  They mention that the Coyotes chose not to bid on the contract.   So why is this award a problem for them?  Do they hate AEG for some reason?  If you really were new to the issues here, you would have to scratch your head and wonder why the two issues were connected.

Oddly enough, everyone knows the reason, but the local media really wants to avoid mentioning this reason.  Here is the elephant in the room no one will recognize:  The Coyotes struggle to make money in this market, a fact made worse by the terrible location of the stadium at the far end of town from most of the potential corporate ticket buyers and wealthy people.   As a result, the team languished in bankruptcy for years, in part because the NHL (who took over the team) refused to sell it at a reasonable market price.

They finally found a buyer who agreed to buy it for an above-market price, but did so only because there was an implicit promise by the town of Glendale to subsidize them the $100 million difference between the actual and market price of the team..  The Goldwater Institute called foul on this subsidy and got it stopped.  So the town found a way around it, promising to award the team the stadium management contract for a price  $8-$10 million a year above market rates for the service.   The present value of this above-market pricing over the life of the proposed contract nearly exactly matched the earlier subsidy proposal Goldwater killed.  Various folks cried foul again, seeing through this sham, and got that stopped.

So the reason this award of the stadium management contract to AEG is so devastating to the Coyotes is that this contract represented the last hope of exacting a hidden subsidy from the city.  With this contract awarded to an arms-length third party at market rates, the last chance of making the Coyote's business viable on the taxpayer's backs seems to have escaped.

Update:  I am hearing now that another reason the Coyotes are done in Glendale is that they think the city of Phoenix or Scottsdale will build them a new stadium.  ugh.  Will it never end.

Thoughts on Ted Cruz's "New York Values" Statement

I don't want to give too much credence to Cruz's "New York values" dig on Trump.  First, it's silly -- New York is not at all monolithic.  Second, it doesn't really even apply to Trump, who often thumbs his nose at New York elite.

But I think that if you asked a lot of people in flyover country, the statement would still have resonance.  I think the reason is that while New York is not at all monolithic in its culture and values, its media exports do tend to be much more homogeneous and tend to reflect a Left-liberal coastal condescension.

I was thinking about this watching the Broadway show If/Then which was in Phoenix this weekend.  I thought this was a pretty forgettable musical, essentially a sort of remake of the movie "Sliding Doors", that was elevated by Idina Menzel in the lead.  We in flyover country seldom get stars of this caliber (at least after they are famous) in our roadshows and she (along with one other female lead who was quite good) made the show worth the ticket.

Anyway, a couple of observations about the show in the context of Cruz's statement:

  • No character in the show (with 2 exceptions) had a productive job in the private sector.  Everyone worked in the city planning department or was a housing activist or a public school teacher.  I kid you not, there was actually a song about the joys of urban planning.   The two exceptions were:  1)  a private architect who thanked the city planning department for overruling his designs and 2) an investment banker who acted like a complete tool and was included for 10 seconds only to illustrate the worst possible imaginable male date.
  • Accusing a character of being a Republican was used as a laugh-line twice.  Since the character was one the authors wanted to the audience to have sympathy for, the character quickly avowed he was an Independent.
  • Living any place in flyover country (e.g. Nebraska, Arizona**) was used as a laugh line in the show and choosing to live in those places was offered up as an example of bad decision-making.  The only place deemed acceptable to live outside of New York was Oregon.

I got over getting too worked up about this sort of stuff years ago (or else I would spend all my time holed up in a cave listening to a few old Rush albums).   Cruz was wrong to criticize New York values but I think there is a .... call it an attitude that emanates from New York media that the rest of the country sometimes finds irritating.

 

** in the show we saw, the lead character had just escaped from a bad marriage in Phoenix.  My guess is that this was not the original location, but was switched for the show here (though I could be wrong, since such a switch would have meant adjusting a couple of songs too).  Anyone see it on Broadway and know what location was used there?

Media Demonization of Koch Money is Pure Partisanship

The media does not like people spending money to elect non-Democrats.   That is the only conclusion I can draw from the fact that all of their articles on "dark money" seem to focus almost exclusively on the Koch brothers (who to my eye are more libertarian than Republican).  One would get the impression that the Koch's are the #1 giver of money to election campaigns, but in fact according to OpenSecrets.org they were #14 in 2014 and #49 in all elections since 2002.  Why wouldn't the media illustrate election-spending articles with someone in the top 10?  It's as if the sports media spent all its time talking exclusively about quarterback Ryan Tannehill (14th in 2015 in NFL passing yards per game) without ever mentioning Tom Brady or Drew Brees.

If the Koch brothers deserve to be excoriated for their election spending, then the organizations that give more than they must really be evil, right?  If one were cynical, one might think that the media ignores the top 8 or 10 because they mostly all give to Democrats.   Well, here is the list from 2014 via OpenSecrets.org.

2014-electrion-spending

Update, from a reader and via Instapundit:

Consider this: in 2013, the left wing Center for Public Integrity reported that “Four foundations run by [the Koch brothers] hold a combined $310 million in assets…” By contrast, the Ford Foundation’s endowment is more than $12 billion — about 38x larger than the Koch Foundations.

On a list of the top 100 US Foundations (by asset size), the Ford Foundation is #2. The various Koch Foundations don’t make the list, nor do they make the list of top 100 Foundations by annual giving.

Yet, the news media and transparency groups constantly harp on the Koch’s massive organization and its “insidious,” “dark money” influence on American politics, while almost completely ignoring the far larger left-wing political Foundations.

In part, this is due to the perception in the media that money from conservative/libertarian/free market leaning organizations must be tainted, while funding from left-wing Foundations is free of such bias. It may also be due to the fact that the left wing Foundations fund many media organizations — I’m looking at you, NPR, PBS, Washington Post, LA Times and others — sometimes even funding them to cover “[other people's] money in politics.”

 

Postscript:  If you really want dark, check out the website for hedge fund Elliott Management.   There is not a single byte of information in the publicly accessible pages, only links to contact forms.

Is It Dangerous to Be a Police Officer?

I have always thought so, and the danger of the job is a large reason why police get so many special privileges, from outsized pensions to minuscule accountability for people they shoot or kill.

But police are not among the top most dangerous professions -- they are not even in the top 10.  Being a taxi driver is more dangerous ( and in fact for 2015 the #1 cause of death on the job was traffic accidents).  We don't fetishize garbage collectors like we do police but they die on the job at twice the rate as do police.

In fact, the rate at which police are killed by gun violence is not substantially higher than for the average citizen.  In 2015 there were 39 firearms deaths of police (from the source above).  Given the way that firearms stats are reported broadly, these are probably not all killings by other people (some police likely are killed by accidental discharge, etc).  But assuming they are all gun killings, and assuming about 900,000 police (I get a broad range of estimates for this seemingly simple number) gives a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 per year, not much higher than the US gun homicide death number of 3.55 (you may have seen much higher numbers of gun death numbers -- over 2/3 of these are suicides).

Postscript:  The current media model is breaking the Internet.  I have seen the chart a ton of times on the most dangerous professions, so I searched for it.  Do it yourself.  The first 8 or 9 links all turn out to be the stupid new media format of requiring 10 clicks to get through a list.  I simply refuse to ever click on these things.  It is a horrible way to present information.  I suggest you boycott them as well.

Yale Literally Has Its Choice of Any High School Senior in the County. And It Picked These Folks?

Via Reason, but the story is all over

After giving Holloway his comeuppance, they moved on to Nicholas Christakis, master of Silliman College. What was Christakis’s crime? His wife, an early childhood educator, had responded to a campus-wide email about offensive Halloween costumes by opining that it was inappropriate for the college to tell students how to dress. According to The Washington Post:

“Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that,” wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and the wife of Nicholas Christakis, the Silliman College master. Both later took to social media to defend the e-mail, incensing students by tying it to debates about free speech and trigger warnings. At a Wednesday night forum hosted by the Afro-American Cultural Center, Erika Christakis sought to leave the meeting during a discussion of her e-mail, further provoking student anger. …

Students grew distressed, with one shouting at Nicholas Christakis to be quiet and questioning why he took the position at the university. “You are a poor steward of this community,” the student said. “You should not sleep at night.”

I guess the question is whether colleges like Yale are preferentially choosing students with this authoritarian mindset, or whether they are training them to be authoritarian.  In either case, they seem to be reaping what they sowed.

This story reminds me of two past observations I have made about universities.  The first is that their diversity programs, despite Universities being intellectual institutions, focus on absolutely everything (from skin pigmentation to reproductive plumbing) except diversity of ideas.  Perhaps this is because the only way to achieve "safe space" as defined by these students is either to create an intellectual mono-culture (the opposite of diversity) or to suppress speech and idea sharing so much that no intellectual discourse happens at all.  Definitely your classic "reap what you sow" situation.

The second observation is that I once thought that a key goal of "diversity" was to eliminate the in-group/ out-group dynamic that has been so destructive through all of history.  But I am increasingly convinced that the true objective of diversity programs as practiced on university campuses is to simply shift the "out-group" tag from one set of people to another.  More horrible things are said on campus about whites, males, Asians, wealthy people, straights, frats, etc than I ever heard in my entire lifetime from anyone about, say, African Americans.

Just look at how most Ivy League schools treat Asians.  The discrimination that occurs against Asian students is amazing, with Asians having to produce SAT scores hundreds of points higher than any other group to have an equal chance of admission.  This is why, despite all my support over the years for my alma mater, I quit doing college interviews for Princeton -- I got tired of being a part of hosing all the hard-working Asian kids I was interviewing.

China Slashes Costs for American Consumers

My headline is probably the most accurate description of how China's devaluation of the yuan yesterday affects this country.  But I bet you will not see it portrayed that way in any other media.  What you are going to see, particularly as the Presidential election races heat up, are multiple calls to bash China in some way to punish it for being so generous to American consumers.  Why?  Because the devaluation of the yuan will negatively affect the bottom line of a few export sensitive companies.  And if we have learned anything from the Ex-Im battle, things that GE and Boeing like or hate are much more likely to affect policy than things that benefit 300 million consumers.  Make no mistake, protectionist measures are the worst sort of cronyism, benefiting a few companies and workers and hurting everyone else (look up concentrated benefits, dispersed costs).

By the way, aren't the worldwide competitive devaluation sweepstakes amazing?  If everyone is doing it, then devaluations have no substantive effect on trade (except to perhaps decrease its magnitude in total), which just adds to the utter pointlessness of the game.  And it is hilarious to me to see US elected officials criticizing China for "manipulating" its currency, as if the US Fed hasn't added several trillion dollars to its balance sheet over the last few years in a heroic attempt to manipulate the value (downwards) of our own currency.

Worried about your privilege? Want to be treated like an abused underclass? Start a business!

John Scalzi tries to explain privilege to non-SJW-types by saying that being a white male is like playing life on "easy" difficulty.

I'll grant I benefited from a lot of things growing up others may not have had.  I had parents that set high standards, taught me a work ethic, taught me the value of education, had money, and helped send me to Ivy League schools (though the performance there, I would argue, was all my own).

Well, for those of you concerned about living down a similar life of privilege, I have a solution for you: start a business.  Doing so instantly converted me into a hated abused underclass.  Every government agency I work with treats me with a presumption of guilt -- when I get called by the California Department of Labor, I am suddenly the young black man in St. Louis called out on the street by an angry and unaccountable cop**.  Every movie and TV show and media outlet portrays me as a villain.  Every failing in the economy is somehow my fault.   When politicians make a proposal, it almost always depends on extracting something by force from me -- more wages for certain employees, more health care premiums, more hours of paperwork to comply with arcane laws, and always more taxes.

Postscript:  I will add an alternative for younger readers -- there is also a way to play college on a higher difficulty:  Try to be a vocal male libertarian there.  Write editorials for the paper that never get published.  Sit through hours of mindless sensitivity training explaining all the speech limitations you must live with on campus.  Learn how you can be charged with rape if your sex partner regrets the sex months later.  Wonder every time you honestly answer a question in class from a libertarian point of view if you are killing any chance of getting a good grade in that course.  Live every moment in a stew of intellectual opinion meant mainly to strip you of your individual liberties, while the self-same authoritarians weep and cry that your observation that minimum wage laws hurt low-skilled workers somehow is an aggression against them.

 

** OK, this is an exaggeration.  I won't likely get shot.  I don't want to understate how badly abused a lot of blacks and Hispanics are by the justice system.   I would much rather be in front of the DOL than be a Mexican ziptied by Sheriff Joe.  But it does give one the same feeling of helplessness, of inherent unfairness, of the unreasoning presumption of guilt and built-in bias.

Dispatches from the Crony State

From the Daily Beast

For some wealthy donors, it doesn’t matter who takes the White House in 2016—as long as the president’s name is Clinton or Bush.

More than 60 ultra-rich Americans have contributed to both Jeb Bush’s and Hillary Clinton’s federal campaigns, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by Vocativ and The Daily Beast. Seventeen of those contributors have gone one step further and opened their wallets to fund both Bush’s and Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.

After all, why support just Hillary Clinton or just Jeb Bush when you can hedge your bets and donate to both? This seems to be the thinking of a group of powerful men and women—racetrack owners, bankers, media barons, chicken magnates, hedge funders (and their spouses). Some of them have net worths that can eclipse the GDPs of small countries.

Ideology, policy prescriptions, legislative plans -- nothing matters except influence.  This will always happen as long as we give politicians so much power.  Its why the Coke and Pepsi party look so similar today.   At least a few people are noticing:

Is there a single person alive who believes that corporations, trade associations, NGOs, unions, and the like pay the Clintons enormous sums for speeches because they believe their members actually want to hear the Clintons say the same tedious talking points they have been spewing for years? If that were the only value received no profit-minded enterprise would pay the Clintons these vast fees because they would earn, well, a shitty rate of return.

No, the Clintons are not paid to speak. Businesses and other interest groups pay them for the favor of access at a crucial moment or a thumb on the scale in the future, perhaps when it is time to renew the Ex-Im Bank or at a thousand other occasions when a nod might divert millions of dollars from average people in to the pockets of the crony capitalists. The speaking is just a ragged fig leaf, mostly to allow their allies in the media to say they “earned” the money for “speaking,” which is, after all, hard work.

We have such people as the Clintons (and the tens of thousands of smaller bore looters who have turned the counties around Washington, D.C. in to the richest in the country) because they and their ilk in both parties have transformed the federal government of the United States in to a vast favors factory, an invidious place that not only picks winners and losers and decides the economic fates of millions of people, but which has persuaded itself that this is all quite noble. Instead, the opposite is true: This entire class of people, of which the Clintons are a most ugly apotheosis, are destroying the country while claiming it is all in the “public service.” It is disgusting. We need to say that, at least, out loud. . . .

Tear down the aristocracy of pull. This may be our last chance.

A Great Example of How the Media Twists Facts on Climate

First, let's start with the Guardian headline:

Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years

So now let's look at the email, in full, which is the sole source for the Guardian headline.  I challenge you, no matter how much you squint, to find a basis for the Guardian's statement.  Basically the email says that Exxon knew of the concern about global warming in 1981, but did not necessarily agree with it.  Hardly the tobacco-lawyer cover-up the Guardian is trying to make it sound like.  I will reprint the email in full because I actually think it is a pretty sober view of how good corporations think about these issues, and it accurately reflects the Exxon I knew from 3 years as a mechanical / safety engineer in a refinery.

I will add that you can see the media denial that a lukewarmer position even exists (which I complained about most recently here) in full action in this Guardian article.  Exxon's position as described in the Guardian's source looks pretty close to the lukewarmer position to me -- that man made global warming exists but is being exaggerated.   But to the Guardian, and many others, there is only full-blown acceptance of the most absurd exaggerated climate change forecasts or you are a denier.  Anyway, here is the email in full:

Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.

Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2. That CO2 would have to be separated to make the natural gas usable. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions.

The alternative to venting CO2 to the atmosphere is to inject it into ground. This technology was also well known, since the oil industry had been injecting limited quantities of CO2 to enhance oil recovery. There were many questions about whether the CO2 would remain in the ground, some of which have been answered by Statoil’s now almost 20 years of experience injecting CO2 in the North Sea. Statoil did this because the Norwegian government placed a tax on vented CO2. It was cheaper for Statoil to inject CO2 than pay the tax. Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.

In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue. Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations. Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question – legitimately, in my opinion – the validity of some of the science.

Political battles need to personify the enemy. This is why liberals spend so much time vilifying the Koch brothers – who are hardly the only big money supporters of conservative ideas. In climate change, the first villain was a man named Donald Pearlman, who was a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. (In another life, he was instrumental in getting the U.S. Holocaust Museum funded and built.) Pearlman’s usefulness as a villain ended when he died of lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker to the end.

Then the villain was the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a trade organization of energy producers and large energy users. I was involved in GCC for a while, unsuccessfully trying to get them to recognize scientific reality. (That effort got me on to the front page of the New York Times, but that’s another story.) Environmental group pressure was successful in putting GCC out of business, but they also lost their villain. They needed one which wouldn’t die and wouldn’t go out of business. Exxon, and after its merger with Mobil ExxonMobil, fit the bill, especially under its former CEO, Lee Raymond, who was vocally opposed to climate change regulation. ExxonMobil’s current CEO, Rex Tillerson, has taken a much softer line, but ExxonMobil has not lost its position as the personification of corporate, and especially climate change, evil. It is the only company mentioned in Alyssa’s e-mail, even though, in my opinion, it is far more ethical that many other large corporations.

Having spent twenty years working for Exxon and ten working for Mobil, I know that much of that ethical behavior comes from a business calculation that it is cheaper in the long run to be ethical than unethical. Safety is the clearest example of this. ExxonMobil knows all too well the cost of poor safety practices. The Exxon Valdez is the most public, but far from the only, example of the high cost of unsafe operations. The value of good environmental practices are more subtle, but a facility that does a good job of controlling emission and waste is a well run facility, that is probably maximizing profit. All major companies will tell you that they are trying to minimize their internal CO2 emissions. Mostly, they are doing this by improving energy efficiency and reducing cost. The same is true for internal recycling, again a practice most companies follow. Its just good engineering.

Why Greek History Reminds Me of California and Illinois

From the WSJ, an article on how politicians who tried to point out the unsustainability of Greek finances years ago where not only ignored, but villified and marginalized.  Sort of like in places like California and Illinois.

In the past quarter century, Greece has had a handful of reformist politicians who foresaw the problems that are now threatening the nation with bankruptcy.

Their reform proposals were fought by their colleagues in parliament and savaged by the media and labor unions. They invariably found themselves sidelined....

Tassos Giannitsis is no stranger to this kind of war: His tenure as labor minister was more short lived, and the battles against him even more visceral. Mr. Giannitsis in 2001, again in the Pasok government led by Mr. Simitis, put forward a comprehensive proposal to reform the pension system.

Trade unions, opposition parties and Pasok itself unleashed menace on Mr. Giannitsis.

“Giannitsis was annihilated after his pension-reform proposals. There are few precedents for this kind of universal attack on a politician,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, a prominent economics professor here.

Mr. Giannitsis’s proposals, which would have reduced the pension levels Greeks receive and made the system overall more sustainable given the country’s demographic and labor-force trends, were never taken to parliament.

“From the fridge to the bin!” said the front page of newspaper To Vima on April 28, 2001, as the frozen pension-reform plan was scrapped for good.

“When I told my colleagues in the cabinet about the reforms I was proposing—which mind you were not the toughest available—the attitude I got was that I was spoiling the party,” Mr. Giannitsis said in an interview.

“They were, like, ‘everything is going great right now, why are you bothering us with a problem that may implode in a decade?’”

There are many other examples.

 

Breaking News: Local Resident Victimized by Legal American Citizen

One of my critiques of global warming alarmists is that they are trying to use a type of observation bias to leave folks with the impression that weather is becoming more severe.  By hyping on every tail-of-the-distribution weather event in the media, they leave the impression that such events are becoming more frequent, when in fact they are just being reported more loudly and more frequently.  I dealt with this phenomenon in depth in an older Fortune article, where I made an analogy to the famous "summer of the shark"

...let’s take a step back to 2001 and the “Summer of the Shark.”  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

Yesterday I was stuck on a stationary bike in my health club with some Fox News show on the TV.  Not sure I know whose show it was (O'Reilly?  Hannity?) but the gist of the segment seemed to be that a recent murder by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco should be taken as proof positive of the Trump contention that such immigrants are all murderers and rapists.  The show then proceeded to show a couple of other nominally parallel cases.

Yawn.   It would be intriguing to flood an hour-long episode with stories of legal American citizens committing heinous crimes.  One wonders if folks would walk away wondering if there was something wrong with those Americans.

One could pick any group of human beings and do a thirty-minute segment showing all the bad things members of that group had done.  What this does not prove in the least is whether that group has any particular predilection towards doing bad things, or specifically in the case of Mexican immigrants, whether they commit crimes at a higher rate than any other group in this country.  In fact, everything I read says that they do not, which likely explains why immigration opponents use this technique, just as climate alarmists try to flood the airwaves with bad weather stories because the actual trend data for temperatures does not tell the story they want to tell.

Media: Please Be Clearer. Was it China, or Chinese Hackers?

The WSJ, like many other media sites, has a headline today that says "U.S. Suspects China in Huge Data Breach of Government Computers."  Then, when you read the article, it says "Chinese hackers" or "hackers in China".

There is an enormous difference between saying China is responsible and saying hackers in China are responsible.  The first would be a very serious affair, implying the Chinese government was engaged in hacking of US Government records.  The latter is virtually meaningless.   It simply means that the hackers happened to be Chinese.  They could have easily been Russian or American.

The media claims to be largely pacifist, but has anyone else noticed that they sure seem to be trying to stir up Americans in some sort of anti-China fever of late?

The Next Time the Media Complains About High CEO Pay.... It May be Projection

Six of the ten highest paid CEO's run media companies.

Six of the 10 highest-paid CEOs last year worked in the media industry, according to a study carried out by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press.

The best-paid chief executive of a large American company was David Zaslav, head of Discovery Communications, the pay-TV channel operator that is home to "Shark Week." His total compensation more than quadrupled to $156.1 million in 2014 after he extended his contract.

Les Moonves, of CBS, held on to second place in the rankings, despite a drop in pay from a year earlier. His pay package totaled $54.4 million.

The remaining four CEOs, from entertainment giants Viacom, Walt Disney, Comcast and Time Warner, have ranked among the nation's highest-paid executives for at least four years, according to the Equilar/AP pay study.

More power to 'em, as long as their shareholders are happy.  But I am tired of these self-same individuals attempting to bring regulatory pressure on the rest of us in the name of high CEO pay.

Heisenberg's Theorum on Green Energy Measurement

Theorum:  A media article on a wind or solar project will give its installation costs or the value of its energy produced, but never both.

Corollary 1:  One therefore can never assess the economic reasonableness of any green energy project from a single media article

Corollary 2:  For supporters of green energy, there is a good reason for Corollary #1.

Writing A More Accurate Headline: Phoenix Cities Take Big Loss on Superbowl

For reasons I will not get into yet again, cheer-leading local sports subsidies is essentially built into the DNA of most big city newspapers.

Last week our paper ran this headline:

'15 Super Bowl visitors boosted tax revenue by double digits

Wow!

Combined sales tax revenue for January and February totaled $14 million in roughly similar categories for restaurants, bars, hotels and retail in downtown Phoenix, Westgate and Scottsdale. That was up 19.5 percent over the same time a year ago.

That sounds awesome.  Take that, all you public subsidy skeptics.   Giving the Superbowl the benefit of the doubt and ignoring things like growth and the really good weather this winter, that is $2.28 million increase in taxes which we will generously ascribe all to the Superbowl.  And probably mostly taken from non-Arizonans, so its like free money.

It is only later in the article that the paper sheepishly inserts this:

Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale and tourism bureaus from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa combined to spend more than $5.6 million on Super Bowl events and public safety.

So we spent $5.6 million (probably under-estimated) to make $2.28 million (probably not all Superbowl related).  The headline was thus a total crock of Sh*t but typical of how, in small ways and large, the media helps push for bigger and bigger government.  I am sure the hotels and restaurants did well -- if so, then they are free to form a consortium to pay for the Superbowl's cost next time.  Or better yet, have some other sucker city host it and I will happily watch on TV.

Update:  I missed this part:

The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and Glendale provided a $6.2 million rebate to the NFL on Super Bowl ticket sales, said Kevin Daniels, authority chief financial officer.

I can't tell from the article if that $6.2 million is or is not in the numbers above.  I presume it is netted out before hand so that the gain in sales tax would be $6.2 million higher than reported above if this provision did not exist.  But this does mean that another valid headline would be:

Nearly 75% of Superbowl Sales Tax Gains Given to the NFL

Police Accountability: Is It An Unfixable Problem?

Despite near-constant pleas for "bipartisanship" in the media, the worst offenses to liberty often occur when both parties agree.  If both parties are stepping on each other to try to beat their chest hardest about an issue, it is time to duck and cover.

This week we have seen how most cities have laws and union contracts that stand in the way of even basic accountability for police.  I fear that this is an unfixable problem, because both Republicans and Democrats conspire to block accountability of police, though for different reasons.

Republicans tend to fetishize police in the same way they do the military, and tend to blindly support the police position in any he-said-she-said confrontation (I know, I used to be one of them).  While Conservatives bemoan the "women never lie about rape" meme on campus, they take the exact same position vis a vis police.

Democrats have generally been better allies of civil libertarians on these issues (though Democrat politicians will throw that all out if they need to buff up their "law and order" credentials for an election).  However, Liberals have a huge blind spot in that they also feel the necessity to be fiercely loyal, even blindly loyal to public unions, which include powerful police unions.  Taking on police accountability would require Democrats to take on a very visible public union, which they are loath to do.   In the past, when faced with a choice of fixing schools or appeasing teachers unions, Democratic politicians have almost always chosen the latter and I don't think they will do anything differently with police.

If you think I am leading up to a silver lining and a proposal, you are wrong.   I don't have one.  Sure, after Baltimore, we may have a lot of talk about reform, but when the cameras turn their attention elsewhere, all the reform will die as quick as they did at the VA and any number of other failed government institutions.

Instead, I think I am going to go home and binge watch The Wire again.  Seems timely.  For fans of that show, everything that has happened this week is entirely familiar.

Inability to Evaluate Risk in A Mature and Reasoned Fashion

A while back I wrote a long post on topics like climate change, vaccinations, and GMO foods where I discussed the systematic problems many in the political-media complex have in evaluating risks in a reasoned manner.

I didn't have any idea who the "Food Babe" was but from this article she sure seems to be yet another example.  If you want to see an absolute classic of food babe "thinking", check out this article on flying.   Seriously, I seldom insist you go read something but it is relatively short and you will find yourself laughing, I guarantee it.

Postscript:  I had someone tell me the other day that I was inconsistent.  I was on the side of science (being pro-vaccination) but against science (being pro-fossil fuel use).   I have heard this or something like it come up in the vaccination debate a number of times, so a few thoughts:

  1. The commenter is assuming their conclusion.  Most people don't actually look at the science, so saying you are for or against science is their way of saying you are right or wrong.
  2. The Luddites are indeed taking a consistent position here, and both "Food babe" and RFK Jr. represent that position -- they ascribe large, unproveable risks to mundane manmade items and totally discount the benefits of these items.  This includes vaccines, fossil fuels, GMO foods, cell phones, etc.
  3. I am actually with the science on global warming, it is just what the science says is not well-portrayed in the media.  The famous 97% of scientists actually agreed with two propositions:  That the world has warmed over the last century and that man has contributed to that warming.  The science is pretty clear on these propositions and I agree with them.  What I disagree with is that temperature sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 concentrations is catastrophic, on the order of 4 or 5C or higher, as many alarmist believe, driven by absurdly high assumptions of positive feedback in the climate system.   But the science is very much in dispute about these feedback assumptions and thus on the amount of warming we should expect in the future -- in fact the estimates in scientific papers and the IPCC keep declining each year heading steadily for my position of 1.5C.  Also, I dispute that things like recent hurricanes and the California drought can be tied to manmade CO2, and in fact the NOAA and many others have denied that these can be linked.  In being skeptical of all these crazy links to global warming (e.g. Obama claims global warming caused his daughter's asthma attack), I am totally with science.  Scientists are not linking these things, talking heads in the media are.

Thanks to Harry Reid

Harry Reid should be thanked for admitting the sort of behavior everyone knows exists but none will confess.  The amazing thing to me is what yawns this elicits from the media:

Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, was asked by CNN’s Dana Bash this week if he regretted his 2012 accusation on the Senate floor that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney “hasn’t paid taxes for ten years.” Reid presented no evidence at the time and claimed he didn’t need any: “I don’t think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.”

Reid’s response in the interview was fascinating. When asked by Bash if his tactic was McCarthyite he visibly shrugged on camera, smiled, and said “Well, they can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?” White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to criticize Reid for his comment because it “was three years old,” when in reality Reid’s televised reveling in it was only three days old.