Obama and Past Presidents

(I considered titling this “Isn’t Barack Obama Wonderful!”) I was researching, in an off moment from a project I’m working on, details about past ambassadors. I’ve used WhiteHouse.gov for a long time, looking back at prior administrations and speeches and executive orders and such. It was a useful storehouse of past ideas and news.

President Obama changed all that. Continue reading

California Prop 37: GMOs

California has a proposition on the ballot that hopes to affect food costs for the entire country.  Proposition 37 would require new labeling for certain foods that involve genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Here’s an article touting the dangers of GMOs, and promoting the proposition.  The “evil corporation” theme dominates this sort of article.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of this proposition.  Besides various falsehoods in the article (e.g., conflating all money spent over time with money spent specifically on the proposition), the legislation itself is terrible. Here’s what I see at a quick glance in the text of the proposition:

  • It allows anyone to sue — even law firms themselves — without being required to allege actual harm. A bounty for bounty-hunting lawyers.
  • It takes effect immediately — meaning there is no time to actually implement label changes before the lawsuits start.
  • The cost of “investigation” may be awarded to the plaintiff even if the plaintiff loses.  (The bill doesn’t specify that winning the suit is required.)
  • Livestock fed with GM corn seem to be exempt, and other secondary uses. I’ll bet that’s not well-understood by proponents.
  • Organic farms — the source of hundreds of actual deaths due to their poor practices — are completely exempt from this proposition.
  • You can have ten different GMO components making up to 10% of the produced result and still not have to label it.
  • There are various other odd exemptions.
  • It is rigged to be unremovable — and allows changes with a two-thirds vote, “but only to further its intent and purpose.”  Very strange.

And, of course, all of this would produce substantially higher food costs immediately, essentially taxing the poor to pay for this trial lawyers’ dream.

GM foods that are actually problems should be dealt with, though so far the evidence is not as strong as it is for things like okra and peanuts. But anyone familiar with the gargantuan bureaucracy of federal regulations should be disinclined to expand it. Consider how bizarrely they treat even the handling of eggs, for example — spread across multiple bureaucratic fiefdoms, all at our expense.

This is written for the benefit of attorneys, not the public, and protects the sacred cow of organic farming. I will vote against California Proposition 37.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Lew Cypher

At the same time as the “yet another IPCC integrity issue” surfaced, I’d been watching an interesting sort of train wreck of an attempt to smear those who disagree with the catastrophist position. A Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Western Australia created an online survey to find out if climate catastrophe skeptics (“deniers” as he calls us) are as nutty as he’d previously written that we were.  The survey process suffered from several problems:

  • He decided to name the resulting paper in a way that was guaranteed to cause conflict: “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” — in his mind, my rejection of tainted catastrophic conclusions from demonstrably bad scientific and ethical practices is equivalent to a rejection of all science.
  • The questions were poorly phrased — creating situations where the wrongness of the question interfered with the proper answer. Use of “x causes y” instead of “x increases the risk of y” tripped up some people.
  • The survey was conducted at eight catastrophist sites. While Lewandowsky attempted (through an assistant) to contact five skeptical sites, three of the emails were lost and at least one of the remaining two entered into a dialog that wound up without a posted survey link.
  • It seems that the “moon landing was faked” responses might be all or partly faked themselves. Skeptics had little role in this survey, apparently, and there were documented instances of the data being faked (admitted) and multiple surveys submitted from the same IP.  Out of 1157 total responses reported, the “moon landing was faked” response came from about 1%.
  • The methodology for dealing with “outliers” was rather arbitrary — and the story changed on what the process was. And some of the data disappeared.
  • It appears that some “conspiracies” — the focus of the survey —are more prevalent among catastrophists than skeptics.
  • The numbers — the actual scientific results — haven’t been able to be replicated from the paper itself. As usual, Steve McIntyre’s careful approach to this is enlightening, and the code for his own attempts are published and testable.
  • Lewandowsky’s attitude has been atrocious. Even a blogger who is on the same side (i.e., a catastrophist or “warmist”) has apparently had all of his comments deleted when he raised reasonable, substantive questions about the survey methodology.  Many other comments have been snipped or killed — and those criticisms are yet unanswered.
  • Lots of people on the skeptic side are having fun with Lewandowsky’s paper and his antics. A couple are attempting to do the same sort of survey more correctly.

In the midst of this is a discussion among the well-funded conspiracists scheming to do damage and to harm the interests of science. Some quotes that surfaced:

...people like us have to build the greatest guerilla force in human history. Now. Because time is up…Someone needs to convene a council of war of the major environmental movements, blogs, institutes etc. In a smoke filled room (OK, an incense filled room) we need a conspiracy to save humanity.

and

Sometimes you just want to let loose and scream about how you want to take those motherfucking arseholes, those closed-minded bigotted genocidal pieces of regurgitated dog shit and do unspeakable violence to their bodies and souls for what they are doing to the safety of what and who we all hold dear.

Sorry about the language, but such is the nature of the practice of “climate science” these days. Ironically, other Australian catastrophists who complained about death threats (connected to this same group) later were shown to be lying about it.  Perhaps this paper is relevant — and was cited by Lewandowsky:

Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2011). “Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire.” British Journal of Social Psychology, 50 , 544{552)

Having read the roughly six thousand emails of Climategate, and many other materials from these core climate scientists, to me the “willingness to conspire” is all too evident.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

“It felt like she was saying…”

There’s an odd phenomenon with one story that is gaining prominence … and I am jammed with projects and don’t have the time to resolve it at the moment. In a recent Arizona court case, an off-duty law enforcement officer was convicted of groping a woman at a bar, when both were very inebriated. He was arrested at the scene, and eventually placed by the court on two-plus years probation, treatment, and community service. The judge’s remarks are the source of controversy: She allegedly said this: Continue reading

Death of an Ambassador

I am saddened by this, as I am with the death of any of us who fall in the line of duty.  Unlike our military, those who serve the State Department don’t actually expect to be shot at — and such occasions are extraordinary circumstances.

I sadly expect that the death of Stevens will not be the last such. I can take some pride in the fact that the arrival of only seven of our people on the scene was enough to cause the attackers to flee — but of course that arrival was far too late. They had to fly in. Continue reading

The Death of Music

Or at least, the death of the music industry is fort0ld in this article.  While the author perhaps overstates the case in some respects, the concerns certainly seem valid to me. And it doesn’t take the usual angle of “the kids’ music is terrible” — he comes at this from a different direction.

A good friend is in this now-suffering industry, and described the article as spot on.

There’s another effect not quite described here. In previous times — say, pre-radio — music was something you heard at home if you were lucky enough to live in a home with a piano (or guitar or fiddle, which seemed more culture-specific). When you were able to hear music professionally performed, it was a Big Deal, and memorable.

Now it is trivial; music seems to be relegated to simply the background noise of most people’s lives.  People who decades ago might have spent significant money making their high-end audio equipment as distortion-free as humanly (and technically) possible now listed to low-quality music on YouTube recordings through cheap speakers.  And even though iTunes and similar systems can deliver high-fidelity music data, the audio environment of the car, the street, or the office does not lend itself to absorbed contemplation of excellent music.

We are missing something, here, and I think it is symptomatic of larger effects.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

Unemployment Down … Up … Different

The unemployment numbers are sent to my cellphone when released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Lat week, the early morning after President Obama’s DNC speech, I received the news: The nominal unemployment percentage had “edged down” to 8.1% from 8.3%.  How was this accomplished?  Some 96,000 new jobs were added.

Ah, but the previous months’ numbers were corrected — down — by about half this amount.  Such corrections are not uncommon, but in this instance the magnitude of correction to results leaves one unimpressed.  It left Mort Zuckerman of this WSJ Opinion piece unimpressed, certainly.

In order to keep pace with the population growth in the US, the jobs market needs to grow by a bit over 200,000 jobs per month.  So how did a rise of less than half that produce a decrease in percentage?  Well, not mentioned until you get to a table in the report is the fact that almost four times that many people were dropped from the list of unemployed, as they had given up looking for work and had not asked within the past four weeks.

Moreover, the total number of people who have given up and are no longer counted as “unemployed” is eighty times the month’s increase, or about eight million people.

The upshot is that the BLS numbers are very misleading unless completely understood.  (A mirror image effect can take place: The job market can improve but the percentage can actually increase as hundreds of thousands of people who had given up start looking for work again.  So far this year, that’s not an issue for President Obama, though it was briefly last year.

One more subtlety. Last month, the median wage rose for the workforce.  That sounds good. But when split out into the under 25 crowd and 25-and-over crowd, it turns out that both groups lost earnings.  How is that possible?  Because the under-25 group makes less money on average, and so many of them gave up that the average wage of those that were left actually increased the total, despite the fact that both segments dropped.  There are simply fewer under-25 workers now.  And the employed-adults number has dropped below 6o%, a new low since this figure began being tracked.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle