Archive for October, 2009
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has flagged an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) decision urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use test data from companies and other existing data in judging whether chemicals found in pesticides and plastics could disrupt the human endocrine system, which releases hormones.[source]
I suspect that the OMB is actually suggesting that the EPA use all scientific data regardless of source. US regulatory agencies have long suffered from “not invented here” syndrome in that they rather routinely reject valid scientific data that originates from any source outside themselves. For example, they often refuse to use data generated by European regulatory agencies even though the standards of those agencies are just as good as ours.
However, I think he has a point (echoing Adam Smith) that data is suspect when it comes from companies that have an economic incentive to downplay the dangers of their products. However, Markey and others like him do not see that the EPA and other regulatory agencies have the same kind of built-in conflicts of interest as companies do.
Since the EPA’s budget and scope of powers depend on the degree of environmental hazard believed to exist, the EPA has a built-in institutional bias towards exaggerating dangers that is every bit as strong as the bias of profit-driven companies to underplay dangers. Worse, as a political creation, the EPA is subject to ideological pressure from politicians, lobbyists and activists across the political spectrum.
We should divide the EPA, and every other regulatory agency, into two departments that are entirely separated all the way up to and including the level of cabinet secretary. One department would be responsible for regulation while the other will be responsible for doing the science upon which the regulation depends. We might even go so far as to create a Department of Science which would perform scientific research for all regulatory agencies. Only then could we be assured that the science upon which we base our regulations would not be contaminated by institutional biases one way or the other.
As the scope and power of government have grown, we have neglected the concept of the division of powers, even though the Founders and history judge this concept absolutely vital to maintaining freedom. Today, each regulatory agency is its own little fiefdom and many are far larger than the entire Federal government was even 80 years ago. Yet we’ve never applied the Founders’ wisdom about the separation of powers to these vast and powerful organizations.
We need to start doing so.
The healthcare bill is now up to almost 2000 pages.
Which reminds me of the epicycles.
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One of my academic advisors used to say that any argument without numbers is a religious one. And we all know how productive they are.
Being a numbers jock and P-Chemist, that statement resonated with me. It still does.
But then I went into business, and for a while my job involved the quantitative prediction of consumer behavior. Entering into the social sciences like that, where there is no ideological bias, just a financial incentive to get the model right, was good for me. It trained me to look at the instrument that was used to derive the numbers. To ask if the questioner was asking the right questions.
So my brain perked up when I saw this article on the decline of newspapers:
Big whoop. After several statistical triple back-flips, we now know that 96 percent of newspaper reading is done in the printed product. That’s like talking about modern transportation by pointing out that 96 percent of buggy drivers use buggy whips. Hello? We switched to cars 100 years ago.
Writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab Web site, Martin Langveld made some valid statistical conclusions about newspaper readership. The problem is that he was asking the wrong questions. It isn’t about newspapers; it’s about news.
Protecting teachers’ unions over children, the US Secretary of Education rationalizes the Obama administration’s opposition to a successful school-vouchers program in our nation’s capital:
Secretary Arne Duncan said in an email through a Department of Education spokesman that while “this Administration is devoting more resources and supports more ambitious reform of our public school systems than any Administration in history,” he believes that “vouchers are not the solution to America’s educational challenges. Taking a tiny percentage of the kids out of the public school system and putting them in private schools is not the answer. We need to be more ambitious. We need to fix all of our schools.”
The disgracefully poor quality of our government-run system of primary education is the worst problem in our society. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of children from low-income families have their intellectual and productive potential stunted. Millions of other children receive crummy educations that scant basic skills while indulging politically-correct educationist fads.
Here’s an idea. Let’s take a chunk of the “stimulus” billions we’re pissing away on bailouts and make-work schemes and use it instead to buy out the teachers’ unions. Offer every teacher and union official a generous lump-sum early-retirement package, conditional on the disbandment of the unions and on a federal legislative prohibition against employee unionization in education through Grade 12. All of this would cost the taxpayers an enormous amount, but wouldn’t it be a much better use of public funds as compared to most of what we’re currently spending the money on?
It seems that they are still upset about that whole Muhammad cartoon flap that happened way back in 2005. Makes sense, as Muslim terrorists have a very long memory. They still cite the Crusades as a major reason for hating the West. If something done and gone for close to ten centuries still motivates them to attack people who had nothing whatsoever to do with those long ago events, then I suppose it seems logical that half a decade will seem like a mere tick of the clock. Maybe there will still be terrorists who have a yen to blow up cartoonists in the year 2300 CE or so, simply because of what those long dead scribblers dashed off in the opening years of the 21st Century.
But that is merely tangential to what I really want to discuss.
Michael Malone has been writing about the technology industry, and particularly about Silicon Valley, for a couple of decades. This recent article is not very optimistic. Although Malone identifies several emerging technologies as having great potential, he fears that the basic mechanism by which new technologies are commercialized–the formation and growth of new enterprises–is badly broken.
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Christopher Wood puts the issue well in a WSJ op-ed piece:
With the U.S. government stepping in to keep markets from clearing, today’s U.S. economy in many ways resembles the post-bubble Japanese economy of the 1990s. Ultra-loose monetary policy and low demand for credit, combined with high unemployment and consumer deleveraging, could lead to a prolonged slump.
All of the above behavior invites legitimate comparisons with post-bubble Japan, where banks took years to be cleaned up as a result of regulatory forbearance. The same kind of forbearance is preventing America’s increasingly distressed commercial real-estate market from clearing. Similarly, as was the case with Japan, monetary-base growth has exploded in the U.S. over the past year courtesy of the Fed, while bank lending is declining. This is why there is every reason to fear that America is already in a Japanese-style liquidity trap.
This is why Wall Street should make the most of the rally in U.S. stocks while it lasts. The next bubble in asset markets will not be in the West but in emerging Asia, led by China. The irony is that the more anaemic the Western recovery proves to be, the longer it will take for Western interest rates to normalize and the bigger the resulting asset bubble in Asia. Emerging Asia, not the U.S. consumer, will be the prime beneficiary of the Fed’s easy money policy.
Japan is still in the economic doldrums. Despite recent electoral turnover, its leaders shows few signs of having the understanding or guts needed to encourage the liquidation of bad assets and freeing of mummified capital. Instead of needed tax cuts and structural reforms to improve business incentives, the government will bail out JAL. This is business as usual and predicts that the economic slowdown that first took hold in Japan in the early 1990s will continue. The USA isn’t Japan but our leaders are doing their best to copy Japan’s failed Keynesian fiscal regime. The outcome is likely to be similar.
The money manager Marc Faber had it exactly right when he was interviewed recently on CNBC: As American business de-leverages, government is levering up. If we continue down the path of increased debt, bailouts, and enormous public spending that drains the risk capital out of the productive sectors of the economy, the government bubble will eventually burst, and the resulting economic crisis will dwarf the current one.
In an Afghanistan policy speech, [h/t Instapundit] John Kerry evokes a famous phrase from his infamous testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 22, 1971.
David Sanger mentioned that in 1971 I asked the Foreign Relations Committee “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
I think it relevant to the contemporary debate to recall what else he said in that testimony:
I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.
It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.
They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.[emp added]
Just to be clear, the Winter Soldier “investigation” was shortly proven to be wholly fraudulent.
This new paper (pdf) by Harry de Gorter and David R. Just, published in the Cato Institute’s journal, Policy Analysis, looks interesting.
From the executive summary:
Sustainability standards are based on “lifecycle accounting,” in which ethanol is assumed to replace gasoline; but in fact, it may be replacing coal or other energy sources. Life-cycle accounting also fails to recognize that if incentives are given for ethanol producers to use relatively “clean” inputs (e.g., natural gas), the “dirtier” inputs (e.g., coal) that might otherwise have been used for the ethanol production will simply be used by other producers to make products that are not covered by the sustainability standard. Sustainability standards reshuffle who is using what inputs—with no net reduction in national emissions.
It’s interesting to pick up a copy of a business magazine from 10 years ago or more and look at what was then hot and at the predictions that were being made–and how well they stood up with the passage of time.
Forbes ASAP (4/6/98) carried an article by George Gilder, in which he asserts that companies will increasingly compete by understanding that the customer’s time is a valuable resource–and making it possible to do business with them without wasting it.
The fact is that the entire economy is riddled with time-wasting routines and regimes that squander much of the time of the average customer. Suffice it to say that the concept of the customer’s life span as a crucially precious resource, indeed the most precious resource in the information economy, has not penetrated to many of the major business and governmental institutions in the United States, let alone overseas.
The message of the telecosm is that this era is over, as dead as slavery in 1865. These lingering attitudes in established busineses and government offer the largest opportunities for new companies and strategies in the information age.
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Via Instapundit comes a disturbing report that one-fifth of the British electorate would consider voting for the British Nationalist Party (BNP), which is considered by almost everyone left or right to be a genuine fascist party.
How did Britain come to this state?
I don’t typically wade into politics with my posts, but I just can’t help myself. The other day I was driving around in a town to be unnamed and stumbled upon the building you see in the picture below.
It looks like a typical warehouse that you would find in any of a million industrial parks in the United States.
But upon further investigation I found something quite different. This is the warehouse that the left uses to store it’s papier mache heads, sign making materials and other props for protest marches. Upon sniffing around it for a bit, I noticed that is was packed to the brim. It looked to me as they had contracted with a local lumberyard to supply the wood for their signage.
All humor aside, does the left not think that we haven’t noticed a certain…well…silence over Obama’s policies? It is OK for Obama to not only not decrease troop levels, but increase them as he is doing in Afghanistan? Why isn’t Gitmo closed? What the hell, even Iraq even has troops there that represent the Great Satan ™ as of now. I know because I am still sending care packages to them (unlike ANY of the protesters who claim they support the troops).
So just exactly what am I to think of the left? That these wars are OK as long as the President and Congress have a D by their names? Puhleeeze.
Well, not really. Is this really so? Will he not attend?
1. Germany is going to have to wait longer than expected for US President Barack Obama’s first official visit. Citing government sources in Berlin, Reuters reported on Friday that Obama will not attend the anniversary festivities marking two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall. - Spiegel Online/International
2. Spouses and even children–researchers combing the Stasi files after the Wall fell were horrified to discover the payroll included 10,000 informers under the age of 18–were potential eyes and ears of the regime; friends were suspect; and strangers were presumed to be Stasi until proven innocent, and probably well beyond that. “Relations between people were conditioned by the fact that one or the other of you could be one of them,” writes Australian journalist Anna Funder in Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. “Everyone suspected everyone else, and the mistrust this bred was the foundation of social existence.” - Glenn Garvin, Reason
3. The pivotal scene in the magnificent new ( OPS: it’s a 2006 film) German movie The Lives of Others–which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last week–takes place in an elevator. The year is 1984, and the occupant of the elevator is a severe and profoundly intelligent senior functionary of the East German security service named Wiesler. A stray word about the inhumanity of Stasi interrogations, or a joke about the dictator Erich Honecker, is all Wiesler needs to hear to make a simple mark on a piece of paper that will ruin someone’s life. - John Podhoretz, The Weekly Standard
Recently I wrote about Britain and electricity and the fact that Britain isn’t bringing new capacity on line in time to stave off a looming crisis as older plants go out of service and electricity demand rises.
This article, titled “Questioning the invisible hand“, has the sub title “Can liberalized energy markets cut carbon emissions? Britain is starting to doubt it”.
The first myth is that Britain, like America, really “deregulated” or “liberalized” their markets. A better description would be that the markets are “regulated differently”.
In the old markets, utilities had a duty to plan for customer demand growth and re-invest in future capacity. Many of the deregulation schemes split off generation, transmission, and local energy distribution into separate companies, which is fine in theory because then each of these three components could be optimized. In many cases local citizens were given a “choice” of electricity providers at the distribution level, but these distribution companies still essentially utilized “legacy” transmission and generation assets.
The reason that these schemes were only partially deregulated is that 1) barriers in the market place ensured that it was difficult to build base load capacity of coal or nuclear power, meaning that the older units ruled the market 2) the spot price of generation was determined by gas fired units, which essentially meant that it fluctuated with the price of natural gas 3) building transmission is so onerous (getting permits, siting it) and funding is so uncertain that the grid was not significantly improved. What did happen is that price controls on generation were lifted and rates were capped, so for a decade or so there weren’t increases in the price of electricity from the generation side.
From the article:
The committee’s diagnosis was stark: the market, left to its own devices, is failing to deliver (carbon reductions). Consumers are not buying energy-efficient appliances or insulating their houses… and power makers still prefer fossil fuels to greener alternatives.
Listening to the contemporary American left’s views of the rest of us is increasingly like listening to a paranoid schizophrenic slip farther into delusions that they are surrounded by malevolent people. Just as we have to worry that the schizophrenic might act on their delusional beliefs and strike out violently against the evils they imagine, we have to be increasingly worried that leftists will strike out against the rest of us based on their delusional fantasies about what we non-leftists believe.
And make no mistake about it, leftists do harbor dark delusions about non-leftists. The fact that so many leftists fell completely for the Limbaugh quote hoax proves it.
The Xenophon Roundtable is coming to it’s conclusion. While we may see a few more “final” posts this week, for the most part, we have had our say. This was the third roundtable hosted by Chicago Boyz and the discussion was different in character from the first two because The Anabasis of Cyrus is of a different nature than On War or Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd. The first two books dealt with military theory but The Anabasis was not written by a professor of strategic studies or of military history, which Frans Osinga and even Carl von Clausewitz were. By contrast, Xenophon was an Athenian aristocrat at odds with democratic times, a brave soldier of fortune and foremost, a student of Socrates.
Xenophon the Socratic soldier and admirer of Sparta would never have written a book like On War because the character of war would have been of less interest to him than the character of men who waged it. Or at least the character of the Greeks who waged war and that of the leaders of the barbarian armies, Cyrus, Tissaphernes and Artaxerxes (ordinary, individual, barbarians are of no consequence to Xenophon except insofar as they are instrumental in carrying out the designs of their leaders). And their character at war and in peace were inseparable and constant, though having different effects, as Xenophon explained in his passages on Clearchus and his captains and his paean to Cyrus the Younger. It has been remarked in this roundtable by Joseph Fouche that Xenophon was thoroughly Greek in his attitude toward the barbarians which Joseph Fouche called a “mirror image” to the attitude of Herodotus toward the Others of the East. I agree, to an extent. The countervailing example though is Cyrus, on whom Xenophon lavished praise with so heavy a hand that it must have struck Athenian eyes as bordering on sycophancy toward a would-be basileus. Few Greek writers, other than Herodotus, were ever so generous with their pen to a barbarian.
I don’t know if it is true or not but I was told once that the writers at “The Onion” start with the headline and then write the story. If that is true, this is an example of an absolutely perfect headline that summarizes China’s role in Africa today:
Don’t Worry About Killing People
This article from The Economist describes how a large Chinese company is signing an agreement with Guinea’s dictator, a man who brutally put down a rally and killed at least 150 protesters who were calling for an end to military rule. While this type of activity horrifies the West (Guinea is a former French colony and they made strong condemnation of this activity), it doesn’t bother the Chinese in the least, who seem to be willing to cut a deal with anyone to obtain raw materials and resources.
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One of the broad assumptions behind recessions and recoveries is that during the “boom”, excess capacity is built into the system as manufacturers & service providers expand to meet increasing needs (today, and in the future). During the recession, manufacturers & service providers pare back, leaving capacity idle.
Part of the reason that the recovery (typically) gains steam is that bringing back this idle capacity (both in physical and human capital) is cheaper than building (or training) new, and it allows the economy to “roar” back into high gear. In some high level sense WW2 leveraged all of the physical and human capital that was idled by the great depression; while huge plants were built and millions of workers mobilized much of the initial lift was caused by leveraging what we had that was unused at the time.
When I look at this “boom” and recession, however, from the point of view of the USA, it doesn’t seem that we over-invested in productive capacity. Much of the investment was in residential real estate and commercial real estate for distribution, retail and services.
“All children live in blocks of flats or in houses,” says Amalie. “Every house has rooms. All the houses together make one big house. This big house is our country. Our fatherland.”
Amalie points at the map. “This is our Fatherland,” she says. With her fingertip she searches for the black dots on the map. “These are the towns of our Fatherland,” says Amalie. “The towns are the rooms of this big house, our country. Our fathers and mothers live in our houses. They are our parents. Every child has its parents. Just as the father in the house in which we live is our father, so Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu is the father of our country. And just as the mother in the house in which we live is our mother, so Comrade Elena Ceausescu is the mother of our country. Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu is the father of all the children. And Comrade Elena Ceausescu is the mother of all the children. All the children love comrade Nicolae and comrade Elena, because they are their parents.”
California state officials have been busy writing regulations:
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) just passed a new regulation that requires glazed glass in automobiles that is supposed to reduce the need to use air conditioning. The catch is that the same properties that block electromagnetic sunlight radiation also blocks lower frequency electromagnetic radio waves. That means radios, satellite radios, GPS, garage door openers, and cell phones will be severely degraded. Even more surprising is that it requires this glass even for jeeps that have soft covers, plastic windows, and no air conditioning. Furthermore, the rules are so stringent that they effectively make sunroofs black, even though many consumers use the covers.
Also, the California State Energy Commission is promulgating stringent energy-consumption requirements for flat-screen TVs. At a minimum, these will surely increase prices to consumers (if manufacturers could increase energy efficiency without raising prices, they would have already done it, since efficiency is a selling point) and may effectively ban some size-technology combinations. This is being done on the theory that it will reduce overall electricity consumption and help avoid the need to build new power plants.
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So, Chinese scientist have made a “desktop blackhole”. Big whoop. I’ve had one on my desktop for years.
At least, things tossed onto my desk seem to disappear completely never to be seen again. Clearly, Occam’s razor says that a black hole is the most likely explanation.