deniers are a liability

The group that is skeptical of man-made global warming comprises 2% of the top 50 climate researchers as ranked by expertise.

Jonathan Kay, managing editor of the National Post, Canada’s conservative newspaper, scolds fellow conservatives:

Most climate-change deniers (or skeptics or whatever term one prefers) tend to inhabit militantly right-wing blogs and other Internet echo chambers populated entirely by other deniers. In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences — it becomes easy to swallow the fallacy that the whole world, including the respected scientific community, is jumping on the denier bandwagon.

This is a phenomenon that should worry not only environmentalists, but also conservatives themselves…

Conservatives often pride themselves on their hard-headed approach to public-policy — in contradistinction to liberals, who generally are typecast as fuzzy-headed utopians. Yet when it comes to climate change, many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion.

In simpler words, too many of us treat science as subjective — something we customize to reduce cognitive dissonance between what we think and how we live.

not taught in school

Happiness is about expectationsHappiness increases with age.

Young people believe wrongly that happiness declines with age and thus justify taking extra risks to party and binge with abandon.

Here’s more on what we know about happiness, so far:

10. Happiness increases with income; decreases by how much you want.
9. Happiness is a feedback loop.
8. Be careful who you choose as spouse, friends, and neighbors.
7. Relative wealth is more important than actual wealth.
6. Giving makes us happier than receiving. 
5. Happy people love their jobs; jobs alone do not make people happy.
4. We’re bad at realizing how good we are at adapting.
3. Happiness is simple.
2. Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t.
1. There are many unanswered questions about happiness.

Happiness on the farm

the transient same

We’ve spent decades sanctifying expedients as if they were worthy substitutes for restraint, discipline, justice or common sense.

The debt of G. W. Bush and dishonest Republicans:

2008 $ 10,024,724,896,912.49
2007 $ 9,007,653,372,262.48
2006 $ 8,506,973,899,215.23
2005 $ 7,932,709,661,723.50
2004 $ 7,379,052,696,330.32
2003 $ 6,783,231,062,743.62
2002 $ 6,228,235,965,597.16
2001 $ 5,807,463,412,200.06
2000 $ 5,674,178,209,886.86

Government spending has accounted for about 20% of US GDP. More spending may boost the economy in the short term. Reducing debt is important in the medium term. But fiscal and monetary policy are not universally potent tools, and politically motivated austerity could be an abject failure.

70% of our economy is consumption and 30% is debt and finance. In the aftermath of crisis there’s revulsion to both, but the result might be permanent sluggishness and unemployment. How do we shift from one kind of economy to another?

Steve Ludlum:

Work is the activity that generates the return from capital.

Without work the value of capital by itself is zero.

This is the real hazard of the current world-wide rise in unemployment.

Workers are getting poorer and cannot afford high prices.

The productive work of each wage earner is worth less than the oil each worker requires to do the work.

The only way out of the ongoing economic/energy crisis is for nations to revalue labor upward – by increasing worker productive capacity, skill and capability – and by going off oil as they went off gold 70+ years ago.

The only alternative is to find four or so extra Saudi Arabias.

alluring destination

At the state’s tourism convention, the Arizona Republic newspaper worries that Governor Jan Brewer mistakenly gave a speech on terrorism:

The border is “out of control,” shrieks Brewer.  There are beheaded corpses and body parts in the desert, Brewer cries. The state is overrun by smuggling cartels and the majority of those crossing the border are drug mules, wails the governor.

Phoenix is second to Mexico City for kidnappings, shouts McCain. These ridiculous political rants range from wild exaggeration to complete myth, but fearmongering … has put both Brewer and McCain way ahead in the polls.

Say others:

Not allowing honest people with clean records in search of honest work across the border in broad daylight at checkpoints simply pushes them into the desert…

People have been crossing that border for thousands of years until honky man came along…

Rigorous enforcement of labor laws on wages, hours and overtime, and of worker safety laws, would sharply reduce employer incentives to hire and exploit illegal immigrants.

Strengthening the border leads to more illegal immigration.

invitation to demagogues

The structural problem began in the late 1970s when a wave of new technologies reduced the costs of outsourcing jobs abroad. Technologies took over many (remember bank tellers? telephone operators? service station attendants?).

Meanwhile, as the pay of most workers flattened or dropped, the pay of well-connected graduates of prestigious colleges and MBA programs—the so-called ‘talent’ who reached the pinnacles of power in executive suites and on Wall Street—soared.

Companies slashed jobs and wages, cut benefits, shift risks to employees, bust unions, and flee offshore. Regulation shriveled.

The puzzle is why so little was done to counteract these forces.

Robert Reich:

With increasing fervor over three decades, government deregulated and privatized.

It increased the cost of education and cut public transportation. It shredded safety nets. It halved the top tax rates, boosted sales and payroll taxes, taking a bigger chunk out of the middle class and the poor than of the well-off.

kick the illegals out

The easy-peasy-it-hasn’t-been-this-bad-since-the-roaring-twenties question is “Who’s really diluting our prize?” Since wealth is what counts, we can say it’s the 10% that own the United States of America.

The top 10% have about 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. The top one percent have about 40% of all privately held stock, 60% of financial securities, and 62% of business equity.

15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America.

Who owns the U.S.A.?

socially useless ideology

Pure interests – expressed through lobbying power – were undoubtedly important to several key deregulation measures in the US, whose political system and campaign-finance rules are peculiarly conducive to the power of specific lobbies.

Adair Turner, Chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority:

But the belief system of regulators and policymakers … tended to exclude the possibility that rational profit-seeking by professional market participants might generate rent-seeking behavior and financial instability rather than social benefit – even though several economists had clearly shown why that could happen.

Policymakers’ conventional wisdom reflected, therefore, a belief that only interventions aimed at identifying and correcting the very specific imperfections blocking attainment of the nirvana of market equilibrium were legitimate.

…[I]t was beyond the ideology to recognize that information imperfections might be so deep as to be unfixable, and that some forms of trading activity, however transparent, might be socially useless. …

Here, I suspect, is where the greatest challenge for the future lies.

the bomb’s birthday

July 16th is the 65th anniversary of Trinity, the bomb, the first nuclear test.

Robert Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Less well-known Kenneth Bainbridge said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

“Humans have a tendency to overuse superlatives when it comes to history.” Ed at gin&tacos said that.

The Trinity Atomic Bomb Test on YouTube is here.

The Alamagordo News reports that persistent urging from the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium has [finally] produced “the most comprehensive view of the secret event, the land and the people of the northern Tularosa Basin ever in the public eye”.

Corks in the bottles of beer in the basement of the home popped out from the wave of compression, a light like lightning and a roar “like a giant piece of roofing tin being shaken by a monster” moved across the land, Ruthina often told her children. She believed her cancers were from the ash that settled over the agricultural community.

…then men in funny suits came in with boxes to study.

Too late or too little for most veterans and bomb workers, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act passed Oct. 15, 1990. Nothing for downwinders under the radionuclide ash. Funny about that.

A few extra nanosecond photos of bomb detonations here. Nuclear bombs are not easy. Think of trying to wrap jello with rubber bands:

The problem with getting a nuclear bomb to explode is bringing the fissionable materials together fast enough. Too slowly they melt and vaporize before the runaway chain reaction can take place. Rapid combination is achieved by surrounding the core with chemical explosives to create speed.  Timed to go off at exactly the same time, many detonators are used, but there’s numerous problems such as variations in detonator reaction time, delays caused by detonator cable lengths, uneven forces caused by minor variations in the explosive and a host of other issues.

a run of tears

Again and again it’s easy to see the lazy but loud ideology of Reagan Republicans that built this crash. As the NYFed points out too late, “The shadow banking system contributed significantly to asset bubbles in residential and commercial real estate markets prior to the financial crisis.”

Unfettered markets gain heat that too easily burns us. Tax cuts for the wealthy, pork barrel to favorites, and concession to factions are the voodoo that brought us a zombie economy. Much more disturbing, crisis is Republican politics.

history shows

“Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else.”

Matt Ridley:

Throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It’s not important how clever individuals are.

If we pull back and take a long-horizon perspective, the free exchange between people of goods, services and especially ideas leads to trust between strangers and prosperity for more people.

Think of it as ideas having sex.

Exchange is to cultural evolution as sex is to biological evolution.

Matt Ridley’s TED presentation: When ideas have sex

Matt Ridley’s mating of ideas at Scientific American.

just for me

Cue the sad trombone: A Missouri farmer put up a billboard stating “Are you a Producer or Parasite? Democrats – Party of the Parasites.” Public records reveal this farmer received well over $1,000,000 in subsidy checks since 1995. Crop subsidies are different, he said.

Ed rightly snarks:

This, to use an overused phrase, is what is wrong with America.

The country is just riddled with people like this.

Anything the government does that benefits me is necessary and right. Anything that does not benefit me is pork, waste, unconstitutional. Hoard the firearms and threaten revolution. The logic really is that simple, which is to say it really is that stupid.

provably false

The persistence of political baloney remains a young field of inquiry. “It’s very much up in the air.

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds.
Facts often do not cure misinformation.
Facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

In the presence of correct information, people making decisions about how the country runs react very, very differently than the merely uninformed.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong.” Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

line up and weep

What’s free market laissez-faire left us?
Six people looking for work for every job opening.

Our corps of leaders struggle with intense challenges, yet argue abstract and impotent issues as if to hide under political sophistry. When not pilfering, today’s leaders seem sloppy and generally very very poor-witted.

Of every dollar of real income growth between 1976 and 2007,
58 cents went to the top 1 per cent
. – Fault Lines, University of Chicago

Unemployed per job opening, Scott WinshipMark Thoma asserts: “I have argued for a long time that one sign that we are finally in a self-sustaining recovery will be private money coming off the sidelines and taking risks without government inducements to do so.

“So far, we aren’t seeing that to any significant degree. The president can talk all he wants about how confident we should be in the economy (perhaps at risk to his own credibility since it’s obvious we still have problems to solve), but confidence won’t build until the private sector takes the lead.

“The mistake has been that the government has not done enough to prime the economic pump so that the private sector can then take over on its own, not that it has done too much.”

Social contracts are breaking down in the US and Europe:

I think of it as the end of ‘The Deal’. What was that deal? It was the post-second-world-war settlement: in the US, the deal centered on full employment and high individual consumption. In Europe, it centered on state-provided welfare.

“Well we can no longer afford that.” But that’s simplistic and misleading. We DID afford it.

What led to the change in the deal was the staflationary 1970, which was driven both by a commodity prices (most notably the oil crisis) and labor bargaining power (workers were able to demand that wages keep pace with inflation, which when inflation got beyond a modest level, stasis became self-reinforcing).

So the new program was to reduce workers’ bargaining power, both by combating unions, and by tolerating un- and under-employment. Rising worker wages that had been seen as crucial to greater prosperity was quietly abandoned as a policy goal. But this has profound implications.

As rising income inequality demonstrates, the benefits of growth accrued substantially to those at the very top. Absent a few wastrels, people with that level of income are not going to spend as much of their income on consumption as those less well off. Thus (in very crude terms) Keynes’ problem of the paradox of thrift, that the understandable desire of households to save can result in insufficient demand, becomes even more acute when it is pretty much only the rich who are getting richer.

built-in baggage

“We have over 10 times more microbes than human cells in our bodies.” – George Weinstock

NYTimes: Scientists are regularly blown away by the complexity, power, and sheer number of microbes that live in our bodies. Between 500 and 1,000 species.

before photography

In 1880 the orchard farmer said, “I ordered peach trees but what I got I couldn’t sell. Nobody wants a chartreuse peach.”

As farmers expanded fruit orchards, horticulturists, agricultural colleges and vendors were bringing new varieties from foreign expeditions, developing new varieties and experimenting with biodiversity.

Prior to color photography, exact representations of fruit and vegetable crops was difficult and challenging until  artists developed superb watercolors:

hello is too slow

  1. We judge your attractiveness, likability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness within 100 milliseconds.
  2. Our judgment becomes more negative after 500 milliseconds.
  3. At 1,000 milliseconds, we’re confident in our decision.

herding and cascades

When trying to figure out how winners happen, the first thing to know is that nobody knows.

Faced with imperfect information, individuals make a binary choice to act (to choose or not to choose) by observing the actions of their predecessors without regard to their own information.


Ben Hammersley:

I’m beginning to hate owning physical stuff. Information I love, but physical stuff is really starting to annoy me. I’m thinking about the best way to have much less of everything, and have ‘everything’ mean much less…

dynasty trust

We too often believe our crashed economy was ‘sparked by unbridled binging on cheap money by a very large part of the American population’.

No, everybody was not doing it. Only enough people more than a few, and from there the whole thing was whipped up by the media and encouraged by the credit industry and Greenspan himself. Otherwise most people wouldn’t even know you can do such a thing, never mind get the idea of doing it themselves.

that blame disease

More deaths than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined, lung cancer is underfunded and it’s the smoker’s fault.


“If lung cancer unrelated to smoking was listed as a separate disease, it would be the sixth or seventh most common cause of cancer deaths.”


One-tenth of men and one-fifth of women with lung cancer have never been smokers, and in some parts of the country — Northern California, for example — as many as 35 percent of women with lung cancer never smoked or lived with smokers.


Smokers who develop lung cancer these days were hooked on nicotine long before it was recognized as an addictive drug and before smoking was clearly linked to cancer. “It’s a real dependence, like heroin or cocaine.”

children drillers

Charlie Petit:

What’s lacking is the obvious.

Which is that if BP and the oil industry and the Minerals Management Service has been acting like grownups for the last 20 years or so, there would have been developed a blow out preventer with a fitting for a backup on top, without customized on-the-fly engineering, that could be added to finish the job.

Think about it. All a B.O.P. does is to act like a faucet.

That means there is no reason to think good engineering would not have found more than one way to replace the tap should it go bad. Or entirely different strings of valves, some at depth, to turn off a runaway well. The deep kill drill mud method may be the one that shuts it off forever and forget it.

This good news is, in reality, the scandal. It underscores the laxity of imagination and penny pinching that got BP and the gulf coast into this mess in the first place.

That’s the story: it is not fundamentally difficult to turn off an oil well. One has only to invest time and money up front in the way to do it.

There is much talk about failure of the press to get the ultimate reason for the disaster right, our “addiction” to oil and other energy that is cheap to produce. That’s a fine, philosophical position. But just as important is to report why the technology failed and whether it had to be that way.

I’d say the press and gov’t regulators alike must demand immediate development of smart, 21st century hardware that gives oil drillers a whole set of proven, robust hardware for rebuilding the top of an oil well, complete with shut-off systems and backup shut-off systems, to start deploying the day a major leak begins.

These guys practically started from scratch. If they came up with this in a few months of near-panic conditions, think what could have been done over the last few decades had there been proper leadership and oversight.