Merry Xmas

Happy holidays.

May your new year be filled with laughter, love and learning.

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Copenhagen

“What a wad of flavor…”

The point of the Copenhagen talks is to craft an agreement between nations that will allow government to inhibit industrial growth, while not harming their international competitveness. It has nothing–nothing–to do with environmental mitigation and everything to do with international gamesmanship. If the point were to reduce our “carbon footprint” or redice emissions, then each country could enact its own regulations and move forward. But knowing that whatever curbs they enact will simply cause industry (and jobs, and wealth) to flee to countries that haven’t enacted the crippling regulation, everyone is in Copenhagen (“You can see it in my smile”) to make sure that the penalties are imposed everywhere.

And, if possible, to make sure that the penalties are worse in other countries.

The point of the whole thing is–in the grand tradition of European Diplomacy–to screw your neighbor.  Everyone knows this.

Which is why whatever comes out of Copenhagen will be useless, fruitless, pointless, and counter-productive. Even by its own standards.

Whatever countries actually end up getting the shaft, will simply renounce the promise and forego the agreement. Which, I’m pretty sure, will mean that everyone else gets to opt-out too.

We simply shouldn’t waste time, money, or resources on such farces.

Bjorn Lomborg in the WSJ.

Zappa Quotes

For no particular reason, I offer a selection of quotes from Frank Zappa:

Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.

Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.

The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.

Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

Stupidity has a certain charm – ignorance does not.

I’ll give you a simple formula for straightening out the problems of the United States. First, you tax the churches. You take the tax off of capital gains and the tax off of savings. You decriminalize all drugs and tax them same way as you do alcohol. You decriminalize prostitution. You make gambling legal. That will put the budget back on the road to recovery, and you’ll have plenty of tax revenue coming in for all of your social programs, and to run the army.

The rock and roll business is pretty absurd, but the world of serious music is much worse.

It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice — there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.

I’ll tell you what classical music is, for those of you who don’t know. Classical music is this music that was written by a bunch of dead people a long time ago. And it’s formula music, the same as top forty music is formula music. In order to have a piece be classical, it has to conform to academic standards that were the current norms of that day and age … I think that people are entitled to be amused, and entertained. If they see deviations from this classical norm, it’s probably good for their mental health.

The most important thing to do in your life is to not interfere with somebody else’s life.

Scientology, how about that? You hold on to the tin cans and then this guy asks you a bunch of questions, and if you pay enough money you get to join the master race. How’s that for a religion?

A drug is not bad. A drug is a chemical compound. The problem comes in when people who take drugs treat them like a license to behave like an asshole.

Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow.

The Ultimate Rule ought to be: ‘If it sounds GOOD to you, it’s bitchin’; if it sounds BAD to YOU, it’s shitty. The more your musical experience, the easier it is to define for yourself what you like and what you don’t like. American radio listeners, raised on a diet of _____ (fill in the blank), have experienced a musical universe so small they cannot begin to know what they like.

There is no hell. There is only France.

Afghanistan

I’ve been pretty critical of President Obama’s foreign policy, so I think it only fair that I comment publicly and say that I applaud him for making sort of the right decision in Afghanistan.

Obama has responded with much of what McChrystal requested. Good for him for listening to good advice.

I’m not particularly troubled by the obviously election-driven timetable that Obama set for troop draw-down. That was to be expected. Obama is bucking his base on this issue and he had to give them something. What happens in 2011 will be governed by political considerations that we can’t accurately forecast–and by the situation in Afghanistan. If things are going well, Obama will be able to begin a troop draw-down and claim (and justly so) massive credit for the accomplishment. I’ll give him credit for that victory–just as he honestly gives the previous administration credit… oh… wait… well, I’ll still give credit where credit is due.

If the situation in Afghanistan worsens, however… then Obama will likely be even harder pressed than he is now. If he begins a troop draw-down amid mounting losses and the American public perceives that as retreat, he’ll be pulverized for sacrificing national security on the altar of political expediency. If things are bad and he commits additional troops, he’ll be pulverized for sacrificing the interests of his political base. So, let’s hope things go well!

I do have to comment on the most appalling piece of political… ooze… in his speech. That’s where he speaks about costs and deficits,

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars.  Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.  Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

His response? To add an additional $1 trillion in deficit spending. In six months he exceeded the cumulative cost both wars by pushing stimulus programs rife with graft, waste, and moral hazard. He’ll work with Congress to bring down our deficit? Bullshit. He’s pressing hard for a health-care bill which will increase the Federal deficit by yet another $1 trillion dollars.

His own words,

I make this decision [to send additional troops to Afghanistan] because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda.  It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.  This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.  In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.  We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

And then he dithers about $30 billion? That’s less than half of what he spent propping up GM and Chrysler for less than a year.

So, yes, I applaud his decision to send the troops. But I deplore the rediculous pretension that he is even the least bit interested in fiscal responsibility.  I am also deeply worried that he will use his own profligate spending as an excuse for why he cannot fully support the troops he has committed.

Climate and Bias

I’ve been swimming in Climate talk for the past few days. Spurred, obviously by the East anglia data leak. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as if I know anything with any greater certainty. However, the whole subject reminds me of economic arguments.

The debate between “Alarmists” and “Deniers” strikes me as awfully similar to the debate between Keynsians and Austrians… each side is so completely enmeshed in a particular methodological approach that the debate rages endlessly. Each side claims methodological superiority, each side claims to have the data on its side, each side claims to make more accurate predictions, and each side claims to be more interested in truth and less blinded by ideology. For the layperson, the argument that sounds the more persuasive is the argument that better corresponds with an existing structure of knowledge.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me in a muddle.

Where should that leave me? I have no idea.

When I think about economic and policy debates (and I have some small experience arguing for economic theories and policy prescriptions that are seriously outside mainstream thought!) I remind myself that my certainty about a particular issue (say, single-payer health coverage) depends in large part on the interrelation of a relatively large amount of information culled from related but essentially disparate disciplines: economics, philosophy, political science, and psychology. My position on a particular issue (anyone’s position, really) depends on a complex lattice work of accumulated knowledge and interpretation, effectively communicating all the intracies of that lattice work is extremely difficult. And is often extraordinarily frustrating!

So in that sense, I have a strong empathy for the Alarmists. They’ve taken an extraordinarily large body of research from related but disparate disciplines and are attempting to synthesize that knowledge in the form of a useful prediction.

“Average global temperatures will rise over the next several decades and that will cause climatic changes that will pose enormous problems for humanity.”

To me, that sounds awfully similar to,

“Increased federal deficits will rise over the next several decades and that will cause economic hardhsips that will pose enormous problems for humaity.”

Which sounds awfully similar to,

“Average global temperatures may rise slowly over the next several decades but the impact will be slight and the costs are best born by our much wealthy descendants.”

Which sounds awfully similar to,

“Increased federal deficits may rise over the next several decades but the impact will be slight and the cost is best born by our much wealthier descendants.”

So which is true? Well, I think the second is demonstrably, obviously, unfailingly true. The last is absurd on its face and utterly wrong. The other two? I don’t know. I tend to agree with Bjorn Lomborg and discount the veracity of the first. But I take that position largely because of all the arguments I’ve read, the inconsistencies and assumptions in Lomborg’s arguments (and all climate predictions depend on inconsistent data and huge, wallowing assumptions) trouble me least becuase those assumptions mirror my lattice-work of existing knowledge and the inconsistencies seem similar to other inconsistencies I’ve been able to reconcile in other areas.

It’s tempting to say that I agree with Lomborg because he confrims my existing bias. But if my existing bias is true (and surely, it is!) then that confirmation is a valid reason to give his arguments greater credence! Of course, if my biases are wrong…

Which is all to say that analyzing complex propositions is extremely difficult. The climate debate highlights the importance of rigorous attention to detail in the evaluation of any new idea. Every new proposition should be checked against an existing set of knowledge–and the parts that don’t match should be ruthlessly discarded. Whether that means discarding the new proposition or, as is often the case, dissasembling the lattice work and rebuilding the scaffolding to accomodate the new idea.

It’s a tough job and prone to error, but it’s the only way to get anything right.

And in the end, it’s why when I see people withold data and strive to align their predictions with their own financial interests (as was clearly the case at East Anglia), I tend to distrust their conclusions. They’ve given me cause to beleive that they aren’t as committed to evaluting their own set of conceptions as I am and so I trust them less.

Which is not to say that I trust all climate scientists less. I just have more work to do evaluating their claims and their counterclaims. And I think, if the East Anglia data leak shows anything, it shows that climate scientists need to do more of that as well.