Monday, January 26, 2009

Color Scheme

Alas, I don't seem to be getting many complaints about setting the world on fire. They all seem to involve the layout. I rather like my color scheme. I actually find the black restful. It seems everyone else disagrees with me. Anyone want to say something nice about my color scheme before I start fooling with the blogger layout?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

If a statistic sounds like it can't be true

[Post edited. Although there has been much talk of layoffs now and in the past, I believe public concerns about long lines may have averted the set of layoffs referred to in the last link.]

Via Instapundit, I read on Chicago Boyz that California could not possibly lay off government employees, since :

California has ~2.3 million unionized government workers and ~18.6 million civilians. With so many people organized with a laser-like focus on increasing taxes and spending, the private working citizens of California find it nearly impossible to prevent government workers from voting their own paychecks.


Of course no one is being whipped, but in effect an ordinary citizen of California cannot get their desires for reduced state spending implemented due to the disproportionate power of the State’s employees and allied interest. It appears now that the government unions will not accept any solution to California’s budget crisis except increased taxes in a declining economy. Ordinary citizens have no choice but to either emigrate or just lie there and take it.

Shannon Love hasn't forgotten that 18.6 million is more than 2.3 million, it's just that the 2.3 million are much more focused on keeping their salaries than the rest are on cutting them.

When I questioned this statistic in the comment section, I didn't get a reference, but the 'clarification' does sound a little more plausible. (I forgot to fill out the top part of the comment section, so I'm anonymous.)

# Anonymous Says:
January 23rd, 2009 at 10:55 pm

California has ~2.3 million unionized government workers?

I’m just curious where you got this figure. It sounds extraordinary. I take it you only include workers for the state of California, since employees for other levels of government would be happy to cut state workers and save on their taxes.


# Shannon Love Says:
January 23rd, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Anonymous 10:55 pm,

California has ~2.3 million unionized government workers? I’m just curious where you got this figure

California has 2.3 million state and local government workers. Most 90% are in one union or another. Teachers, police, fire, corrections officers, highway workers, office workers etc all belong to unions which to my knowledge are compulsory. The unions way in heavily on political issues. They are especially noted for spending millions on advertising campaigns. They collect those millions from union dues. So, even if 49% of government worker oppose an issue the other 51% can force the union to support it.

Do all these groups vote to support each other at all times? Here's a possible answer from a few months ago. Is it really only the state employees who think they are providing a service?

Of 9,017 DMV employees statewide, 1,345 — or 15 percent — could be gone by Friday after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs an executive order to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis.

The department also has 751 contractors who could be terminated. And that won’t be good news for customers, said Amber Carlson, who would lose her $14.75-an-hour part-time job answering phones and processing paperwork at the DMV’s Sacramento headquarters.

“People aren’t going to get their licenses back as quick. There’s going to be more people on hold trying to get their questions answered,” said Carlson, 25. “He (Schwarzenegger) is trying to push people, and he’s pushing the wrong people.”

Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the executive order Thursday, the first day of the August pay period.

About 22,000 temporary, part-time and contract state workers face layoffs. That could mean fewer food safety inspections and cutbacks in the programs that stock fish in the state’s rivers and lakes, among many consequences.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Break a Terrorist

I just finished reading How to Break a Terrorist by Matthew Alexander. It's one of the most important books I've ever read. I'm not sure if anyone knows how to fix the world economy in the long term, but this man might be able to fix Afghanistan if he were given free rein.

When people talk about our giving up torture, one of the first things you'll hear about is a 'ticking time bomb', a hypothetical bomb which can only be disarmed if a terrorist tells you how - quickly. Usually the teller means this as an example of who torture cannot be ruled out, but Matthew Alexander dealt with similar situations - when abuse didn't work.

This is the story of the interrogation team which managed to help locate and kill Zarqawi. The plot hums along like a thriller, with conflicts between interrogators and prisoners, between different interrogators, and between interrogators and their superiors. In between there is time for a few light and humorous moments, and we learn a lot about both personalities and interrogation techniques.

Can we really help fix Afghanistan? This would be only the first step. New interrogation would have to lead to new nation building.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fox News Discovers an 'Environmental Group'!

The headline doesn't say it all, but it's a start:

Environmental Group Begrudges Inaugural Show as Mammoth Polluter

The Institute for Liberty says if environmentalists really want to honor President-elect Obama, they will stay home rather than contribute millions of pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

You have to read the fine print to discover this group is a conservative think tank. So is this think tank focused on the environment, from a conservative perspective?

This is from the home page of the Institute for Liberty:


Welcome to the online home of the Institute for Liberty and the Institute for Liberty Research and Education Foundation. IFL is an advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Originally founded as a public policy center focusing on technology issues, the organization is now dedicated to small business and entrepreneurship, acting as an agent for holding back the incursion of costly regulatory regimes that burden American business.

Specifically, we fight against the “petty tyrannies” of government—the incremental diminutions in individual rights that lead to wholesale destruction of liberties. While IFL will direct much of its effort towards the federal executive branch, it will also advocate on congressional attempts to erode the rights of small business owners and frustrate entrepreneurship in America.

This doesn't sound like any environmental group to me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

At Last!

Protein Wisdom has gotten around to repeating the inaccurate information being circulated by the 'liberal' media. You can follow the rumor back through their hat tip if you like, its been circulating awhile.

Of course, the MSM thought a bit differently about the $40 million 2004 inauguration

Don’t they know there is a war on? [...]

To many Democrats, images of Republicans in sequined gowns and designer tuxedos nibbling roast quail and twirling the Texas two-step in last week’s $40 million-plus inaugural extravaganza seemed inappropriate, unseemly, even unpatriotic, when American soldiers are dying in Iraq.

“Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted - if not cancelled - in wartime,” Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, chided in a letter to President Bush. Citing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s austere fourth inaugural in 1945, Mr. Weiner suggested that the money would have been better spent on armored Humvees and pay bonuses for the troops.

But for an incoming President with a $850 Billion stimulus package slush fund to reward political allies, what’s a mere $160 Million Party on the Mall?

Two errors. The stimulus package isn't paying for the inauguration, nor is the government. Almost all the money is being raised privately.

And the amount is wrong also, as Media Matters explains:

Here's why using the $160 million number and comparing it with Bush's 2005 costs represented a classic apples-and-oranges assessment: For years, the press routinely referred to the cost of presidential inaugurations by calculating how much money was spent on the swearing-in and the social activities surrounding that. The cost of the inauguration's security was virtually never factored into the final tab, as reported by the press. For instance, here's The Washington Post from January 20, 2005, addressing the Bush bash:

The $40 million does not include the cost of a web of security, including everything from 7,000 troops to volunteer police officers from far away, to some of the most sophisticated detection and protection equipment.

For decades, that represented the norm in terms of calculating inauguration costs: Federal dollars spent on security were not part of the commonly referred-to cost. (The cost of Obama's inauguration, minus the security costs? Approximately $45 million.) What's happening this year: The cost of the Obama inauguration and the cost of the security are being combined by some in order to come up with the much larger tab. Then, that number is being compared with the cost of the Bush inauguration in 2005, minus the money spent on security.

In other words, it's the unsubstantiated Obama cost of $160 million (inauguration + security) compared with the Bush cost of 42 million (inauguration, excluding security). Those are two completely different calculations being compared side-by-side, by Fox & Friends, among others, to support the phony claim that Obama's inauguration is $100 million more expensive than Bush's.

That's why the right-wing site confidently reported that Obama's swearing-in would cost "nearly four times what George Bush's inauguration cost four years ago." So did Flopping Aces, a shining light of the right-wing blogosphere:

It may look like I quoted a whole post, but if you click through you'll see there's a lot more there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fear of Global Warming Alarmists

One of the global warming deniers who writes in the Protein Wisdom pub (and perhaps occasionally in the comment section of Climate Audit if it's the same woman) has referred me in my comment section to her writings on global warming and those who study it, and asked me to answer. On her own head be it.

She acknowledges being unable to analyze the raw data herself. While I can't do this either, sometimes when I have read what both sides say about each other, it is possible to form an opinion. She applies a different method. She alleges that a few of the people studying global warming have done dishonest things, then states that they wouldn't have had to do these things if they had scientific truth on their side, so she has proven all the scientists studying global warming wrong without even mentioning their arguments! Some people would consider that an argumentum ad hominem, but that can't be, because she warns me:

Bring it on. I can defend myself against any honest argument. But if you descend into argumentum ad hominem or any other logical fallacy, I will hand you your head.

Or did I misunderstand? Did she mean she's OK in ordinary argument but much better than me in an ad hominem contest? Even though she talks about a politician, I dare not say anything about Bush or Imofe, whom not even all conservatives consider trustworthy. I've been warned she's an expert. I won't even mention Fred Singer or Richard Lindzen.

So OK, let's look at what she wrote:

1. If you have scientific truth on your side, you have no need to…:

a. …lie or misdirect to make your case. Yet Inconvenient Truth is riddled with lies. The infamous cherry-picker scene shows a chart that actually shows exactly the opposite of what Gore says it does. I read the original article, so I can verify this myself.

I've heard legitimate suggestions that book is misleading on certain points. This isn't one of them. Does the chart by any chance show that the Earth started to warm slightly before Co2 started to increase? That is what all the models predict. I've never heard a claim that rising Co2 is the only thing that can ever start the temperature of the Earth increasing. Is she saying the chart proves that the Co2 doesn't contribute to further warming after the initial impetus? How?

b. …conceal your data and methodologies. And yet James Hanson, Michael Mann, and others either fail entirely to archive their data or they refuse to let others analyze it.

Stephen McIntyre's has a blog called Climate Audit. He's made some penetrating criticisms of several scientists. He argues that the data archiving and sharing protocols used in several climate studies are outdated, that they might have been reasonable a few decades ago, but are insufficient now that much more is dependent on these studies. He compares these protocols unfavorably to those in industry.

What he doesn't do is imply that there has been dishonesty or bad faith of the sort that would let us reject the work of the scientists involved without reviewing it, on the grounds of personal dishonesty. If I'm wrong I'd be interested to see where he suggests this. Otherwise, perhaps Dicentra should consider following his example.

c. …stubbornly refuse to correct your mistakes. Michael Mann has been warned by the NSA to stop using certain data sets (strip-bark bristlecones, for example), and yet he continues to use them. McIntyre has also found egregious and yet easily correctable errors in his work, and yet Mann keeps propagating these errors in study after study.

There may be some legitimate debate about the bristlecones. The misleading thing here is the implication that Michael Mann has just ignored all the problems his critics have claimed. Discussing both sides does not require reading the original data.

The issue is not simple. Here's a sample of the other side. I'm not ready to write about the whole thing, I just want to show the implication that Dr. Mann is using the same data while ignoring all questions about it is simplistic.

What is your position on the Bristlecone Pines?
(I’m referring to MM’s suggestion that they are in some way anomalous)

[Response: Thanks for the question. Much has been written on the potential influence of non-climatic factors in recent centuries (potentially associated with co2 effects) on the growth pattern of certain high elevation drought stressed trees such as the Bristlecone Pines you refer to. In Mann et al (1999) [Mann, M.E., Bradley, R.S. and Hughes, M.K., Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations, Geophysical Research Letters, 26, 759-762, 1999], an attempt was made to remove these potential non-climatic influences. This was done by subtracting the anomalous pattern of growth that emerges over the past couple centuries in these chronologies relative to other tree-ring chronologies that otherwise exhibit very similar patterns of growth back in time, but which are unlikely to be influenced by the same non-climatic factors. More discussion of these issues (and references to relevant past work) can be found in the paper. -Mike]

Isn’t it a bit wrong to use the the word ‘independent’ [above]?
-If the various reconstructions use a common core of proxies, they wouldnt seem to be statistically independent to me -not that I am a statistician.

[Response: No, its an appropriate description. Several of the reconstructions that have been performed are based on entirely independent proxy data and entirely independent methodologies. Other reconstructions use a small number of common series but an independent methodology. None of the reconstructions use largely the same dataset, or precisely the same methodology. -Mike]

One more point is enough for now. We seem to be skipping around a lot.

d. …refuse to engage in open debate with skeptics. James Hanson famously said that he would not “joust with jesters” when asked whether he would debate his detractors.

What? After all the talk in your comment about the scientific method? Do you believe a televised debate is relevant to proving or disproving a scientific theory or not?

To be continued, if not in my next post, in the next week or so.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

SEC Investigation

Jason works in the financial center, so it's especially interesting to see his take on the failure of the SEC to detect what was happening with Madoff:

My take: One of Megan's commenters got it right: The SEC is made up of lawyers, not quants. They are simply not equipped to do deep due diligence on funds with complex trading strategies: It would take an advanced degree in statistics and a hellacious amount of number crunching to pull that off, and I haven't met the lawyer yet who is equipped to do that on his or her own... nor are the people who can do such things inclined to work for the SEC, or in journalism, for that matter, because the money isn't good enough.

On the other hand, I have met very few lawyers who truly understood the limitations of their field of expertise and circle of competence... an observation buttressed by the many stupid attempts to legislate from the bench. Or from the legislature, for that matter.

It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Cheung was a faithful and industrious public servant who did the level best she knew how, given the resources at her disposal and the fund of information she had, or reasonably could have had. The fault very properly lies with higher-ups who knew her expertise was in law, and not quant, and who failed to adequately supervise her, by providing her with the staff expertise or access to outside knowledge she needed to carry out an investigation of this nature.

The only thing he leaves out is that those higher ups were Bush appointees, and ultimately Bush himself. It must have been tough for a libtard hating fact checker to go as far as he did.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Sometimes you hear people concerned about global warming accused by deniers of being the same people who were saying there would be another ice age in the seventies. All that could change in an instant, the way people who had been claiming the Earth wasn't warming suddenly started saying it was, but humans couldn't be contributing to it.

As a result of his discovery of the effect of solar cycles on the Earth's climate and in particular the lack of awareness he has observed in the media, government and among the people, he has begun a vocal and highly visible effort to alert all to the coming climate change in order that we are prepared for the record cold event and its global ill-effects associated with this new climate.

Gives a new meaning to 'climate change alarmist', huh?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Long Will the Recession Last?

Yesterday I was studying Value Line at the public library. They are a great starting point to learn about many individual stocks, which they research and rate individually, but I'm not convinced they know quite as much about the economy as a whole. In particular, they seem to be forecasting the recession will end around the beginning of 2010, which seems to be consistent with what is priced into the stock market as a whole. My concern is that most of the fund managers and other institutional decision makers now employed seem to have lived most of their careers during a period when the market went up and up, and any dip was a temporary setback which could be waited out.

Let us hope they are right and I'm wrong - but let's imagine the opposite for a moment. Imagine that Japan and China keep buying dollars and dollar denominated assets to support their manufacturing industries, but our recession keeps going deeper and they are getting less and less export bang for their dollar buck. A point might come where they decide the money would be better spent directly in their own economies. This would be a difficult decision for them, since the value of their dollar denominated assets would fall, but they might make it. Equally well, some smaller nation might decide to sell their dollar (and American bond) reserve first, hoping that they would get the best price by being the first to sell. That could start the landslide that might force China and Japan to sell weather they wanted to or not.

I honestly don't know if it's too late for Obama to do anything or not. I keep remembering they days just before some third world nations started defaulting on their debt. People knew they couldn't pay it off, but argued that there would be no default because it was in everyone's interest to pretend the debts were good, so the banks would keep refinancing and the countries would keep making inadequate payments, and the loans would be counted as good assets. We all know how that ended up.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Dollar to Euro exchange rate and why it may matter

I've been studying this ten year graph of the price of a euro in dollars. You can see the price was actually higher in the middle of 2008. That's good, because a sudden rise in the dollar cost of euro's could indicate a serious problem. The Chinese yuan is pegged to the dollar - unless and until they decide that they could benefit their economy more some other way with the money they use now to buy dollar denominated assets to keep the dollar artificially expensive to help their exporters. The Japanese yen isn't pegged, although they do intervene in the market in much the same way as the Chinese.

If speculators were betting against the dollar, the first sign we saw might be the dollar euro exchange rate. Remember all those devaluations during the other little economic crisis? As long as imported goods stay cheap, we have a lid on dollar inflation, since American companies have to compete with importers on price. If other countries give up on lending us money (that is, buying dollar denominated bonds) to keep their imports artificially cheap, one of the first results we may see is inflation of hyperinflation.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Oy, more proof global warming is a socialist plot!

Dan Collins of Protein Wisdom links to a Newsbuster post that selectively highlights words and phrases from a letter James Hansen of NASA sent to Obama. As most economists have suggested, Hansen also suggests a carbon tax would be the most effective way to fix this. He also suggests that giving the money back to people per capita would avoid hurting the poor near the end of the letter.

Needless to say, Dan Collins and Newsbusters regard this as evidence that real goal of alarmists such as Nobel Laureate Al Gore and his followers is to use the fear of man-made global warming to redistribute wealth.

Click through. Protein Wisdom is fun to comment on, you just need a name and e-mail address, and half the time some conservative will actually click back to read your blog if you leave a url as well.

Faux Hillary Blog post of the day

This space is for the 18,000,000 Americans who continue to support Hillary Clinton. It is our intent over the next four years to show the other 18,000,001 Americans how they made a BIG mistake putting Obama in the Whitehouse. We will not be bitter, but we will not support the "Radical Agenda" of an Obama administration.

They say. On the other hand their Help Stop These Liberal Democrats! post has a picture of Hillary Clinton.