Friday, December 19, 2008

Inflation, manias, and gold, oh my!

On a rare hard money post on the Reason blog, a pointed question was asked of the commentariat, by domoarrigato:

I've never gotten a decent answer from Austrians on this site as to why they prefer the arbitrary inflations and deflations which would inevitably caused by fluctuations in the supply and industrial demand for soft yellow metal over those tied to the state of the economy. Or, how a metallic standard would cure the primary cause of bubbles and crashes (human psychology and extension of credit to dubious actors for uneconomic means.)

This latter isn't impacted one whit by being able to convert currency into specie.

I decided to man up to the task and offer my own response:

I think you're just setting up a straw man. It doesn't have to be gold, gold is merely a good candidate. The whole point is that one should be free to choose whatever means of exchange one desires.

Also, manias and panics cannot be solved other than through a totalitarian state which tells you what to buy and sell. People are sheep and will plow into retrospectively dumb "investments" like beanie babies. Reducing the scope of government will prevent many manias by taking away the easy credit punch bowl, and by removing fool-hardy government schemes and mandates. If you research manias throughout history, the worst ones initiated by the government sticking its phallus in the middle of private contracts (Tulips, Mississippi River Valley, Railroads, and finally, Real Estate). Government *could* quell some manias by pursuing cases of fraud, but since governments were making money hand over fist through real estate taxes, nothing happened.

...inflation and deflation aren't intrinsically bad (in moderation), they just benefit debtors in the former and savers in the latter. *Both* extreme deflation and inflation are bad because they distort people's rational expectations as to what their money is worth and aggravate herd like behavior ("Never put your money in banks, they can't be trusted!" or "Houses always go up in value!")

Well, apparently my reply was somewhat satisfactory as domoarrigato riposted:

If I've been effective enough in pointing out the difficulties of a gold standard that it is viewed as a strawman on a libertarian website, then I have been sucessful indeed. I put it out there, because I generally get a lot of flack for busting on the gold crowd. I see I've attracted the attention of the free banking crew instead today. I actually have a lot less of a problem with that concept than you might think. Free banking is a concept that I like a lot - in fact I support efforts like e-gold etc. I do take issue with the idea that USD are somehow a monopoly currency in this country. There are many counter examples that argue otherwise - mostly local barter arrangements. The big more visible ones tend to run afoul of the laws (like money laundering statues) but that doesn't stop people from saying it's because of "legal tender laws" - which it's not. In fact, we have free banking in the US, and these currencies exist peacably beside the dollar. It's just that money - like telephones - has a lot of network effects that determine it's success. You can only use wildcat currencies where they are accepted voluntarily.

Well put. I would only add that moderate deflation can much more easily turn into extreme deflation, and is always accompanied by much worse economic outcomes than moderate inflation. Which is why every mainstream economist that I am aware of views a couple of percents of inflation as "price stability"

Then he offered a concrete example of how a gold/silver standard is just as inflation prone as fiat currency. And soon we were off on another tangent:

I did an interesting calculation on the oft cited roman debasement and inflation example. Very good records exist, and I was able to compare the value of silver denari(common unit of money that were debased from being solid silver to solid bronze with just a silver wash) to that of solid gold aureus (corrected for weight and purity) which were commonly used as stores of wealth. Over the 200 odd year time period that I looked at, inflation averaged a remarkably un-remarkable 6%.

Also during this time period, the roman empire expanded enormously in size and citizenry and wealth/capita. The money supply increased many times faster than the 6% would indicate because of this. The romans inflated their currency through debasement because of the raw demand for more currency in an expanding economy.

Another poster name HAL-9000 offered his analysis of Rome's inflationary period, which put things into perspective:

What was the 200-year period you looked at? Most of what the Roman Empire was built during the Republic...at least the big-money "acquisitions" if you will. Your time-frame sounds more like the late Republic than the Empire.

You know, sitting here thinking about it, there's another big caveat in looking at money and collective social behavior with ancient societies - especially the Roman transition from Republic to Empire - and that's slavery.

In the late Republic and especially the Empire, most people's participation in money transactions was as the commodity the monies were being exchanged for. That also would have a significant impact on "assets" in a society that practiced a high form of ledger accounting like the Romans did.

I wonder, what was inflation like when Rome was still a Republic, before rampant slavery set in, and a permanent underclass became dependent on socialism bread and circuses in Rome? Was there a monopoly on metallic currency, and was it subject to inflation?

Much ink has been spilled on the matter. Even if a government chooses gold over fiat currency, it could still debase it, though with much more difficulty. A recently written book attempts to analyze the use of money in that time period. It seems one problem the authors had, was trying to measure the amount of money floating around. Apparently, Roman coins were valued, but many other means of exchange were used during the Republic. Rural farmers used wheat and cattle, some used foreign coins, and still others just used unminted bullion. It becomes ambiguous as to what money is--and how does one measure the other means of exchange used? It seems the number of coins used simply met the demand for coin. It wasn't until the Roman empire spanned the whole mediterranean, and the grain shipments converged on the gargantuan city of Rome, that the emperors achieved a de facto monopoly on money. The larger the government, the more official coin it needed to pay its functionaries and military. Also, it's more convenient for the government to request payment for taxes in its own coin. Eventally everybody had to use coin, as governments needed to buy grain for the proletarians and the army--even though traders and farmers initially preferred not to use the official coinage. It seems Gresham's Law was already in effect.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ZOMG: Wall Street Is War Street!

Those were the friendly words greeting me at my mailbox today, as apparently I was delivered the full catalogue of the AK Press. Two goons with black balaclavas, black gloves, and black slacks were pictured in stark black and white, carrying a minimalist placard with the pithy phrase "WALL ST. IS WAR ST."

"For me? You're too kind!" I thought to myself, but was much disappointed after I flipped over. It was addressed to the former tenant, a raging anarchist apparently. So started my trip down irony street for the evening.

First was the bold declaration on the back touting AK Press as a premier source of anarchist literature. "Oh really?" I wondered. "Surely they must have works by Murray Rothbard, or a little bit of Hans-Hermann Hoppe!". Alas, no. But they *did* have a full back-catalogue of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Bill Ayers.

Of course, I knew better. The little red and black flag in the corner signifies that this publication was of the anarcho-syndicalist brand of anarchy. This is important because the publication touts itself as just plain anarchism, and it's only if you bother to read a dozen pages into their brochure that they mention "syndicalism". In other words, they arrogantly co-opt a whole entire movement of a wide variety of thinkers--such as, for example, Christian anarchists, or agorists. It is intellectual dishonesty. This isn't unexpected however: those on the left of the statist variety, the modern day liberals, did something similar when they co-opted the term "liberal", and warped to the point where it no longer resembles classical liberalism.

If you forgive the foray into deconstructionism, it's interesting to analyse the materials themselves. It is more or less a combination marketing brochure with full media catalogue: movies, music, books, and merchandise. The cover is simple, intriguing, and accurately summarizes the subject matter. Everything in this book is categorized, summarized, organized to benefit the consumer in the purchase collective-anarchist material. At the same time, it's printed with newsprint to cut costs. What I'm trying to say here is that AK Press has created an excellent market-based product. Whoever is working in their marketing department is no slouch. I would say that it's even a fine example of capitalism! It's also quite aware of its own hypocrisy. From the section entitled "Isn't an 'anarchist business' an oxymoron?":

There's definitely something strange and contradictory about the concept of an anarchist business. AK Press works hard to destroy and move beyond capitalism, toward a non-exploitative, sustainable, and just economy. However, like it or not, capitalism is the only game in town at the moment.

I couldn't agree more! It's the only game in town because well... it's the only game that works. The market has been in existence ever since Ogg traded a hunk of flint for Zugzug's dried fish. Eventually, Lothar of the Hill People discovered cowry shells were a good store of value when flint and fish were unavailable. Though I have to admit, Cave Clan's Collective Coop makes some wicked magic brownies.

Fortunately, the newsprint of AK Press makes good tinder for my fireplace. Reduce, re-use and recycle, I say! Though I think you can guess as to whether I'll be pulling off the shelf "A People's History of the United States" or "Road to Serfdom" to read next to a roaring fire.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama: More Clinton than Carter

There has been much ink spilled that Obama's upcoming presidency would be a repeat of Jimmy Carter's mediocre four years. The punditry notes several similarities. For instance, a presidency that starts with a crushing budget deficit and a stagnant economy. This would be accompanied by a weak foreign policy, and economic mismanagement that would prevent business from recovering. This comes from the assumption that Obama would stay true to his leftist roots, and his comments about wealth redistribution and fairness at any cost.

However, it starting to become clear that Obama is no Jimmy Carter, but more like his Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton. This is because it appears that Obama associated with far left characters such as Bill Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright for political expediency. In order to rise up quickly in Chicago politics, one cannot play to the center. He needed to ally himself with both the liberal, white, elite as well as stay true to the black community. It seems that to become a credible presidential candidate, he not only had to play to the center, he must stay firmly planted there.

I do not think this will be an easy-going libertarian type of centrism. This will be an authoritarian father-knows-best status quo kind of centrism.

The ideological left will be disappointed that he does not represent a true change in Washington. A number of libertarians decided to punt for Obama instead of McCain because of his anti-war views and increased support for civil liberties. They will soon have buyer's remorse.

My proof of this is his choice of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. He is a former Clinton staffer and political insider. He was a Wall Street financier. Some of his policy views are chilling, such as a mandatory three month civil service program (this is a newspeak, politically correct version of a draft). Due to his ties to banking lobby, he won't recommend roll back the horrendously expensive bailout of big business. Other cabinet positions are unconfirmed, but they appear to be from across the political spectrum.

The far left will be sorely dissapointed in his promised redistributionist schemes, for two reasons. First, due to the fact that our economy is slowing, and we're stuck with 2 trillion for the bailout (which Obama supports), there will be no money available for social projects. Second, since Obama at least pays lip service to the free market, his economic advisors will likely warn him that any further deficit spending will result in massive inflation. Also, any increase in tax rates beyond Clinton levels would merely accelerate the flight of industry and business to other countries, which would cause ever decreasing returns in tax revenue.

Libertarians who sought to punish the Republican party for the failures of the past 8 years by pulling the lever for Obama will soon discover that Obama is no civil libertarian. Not only did he vote for the USA PATRIOT Act, but he also voted for the retroactive telecom immunity. I expect Obama to close Guantanamo eventually because of its symbolic value, but he will no doubt simply expand on Bush's presidential powers. In terms of freedom of speech, Reason Magazine summarized Obama's willingness to violate it:

...the folks at places such as the Parents Television Council will continue thundering on about indecency on the public airwaves (and why the Federal Communications Commission ought to be regulating content on satellite and cable too). In this sort of jeremiad, they will find an ally in Obama and his puritanical friends on the left, who similarly like to run down market-based culture, especially video games. "Turn off the television," Obama is fond of saying, "turn off the video games." Like Bill Clinton, who along with First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a seemingly endless series of White House events decrying vulgar culture, Obama hasn't been shy about pulling a Janet Reno when it comes to threatening industry to undertake "self-regulation": "Broadcasters and video game producers should take it upon themselves to improve this [rating] system to include easier to find and easier to understand descriptions of exactly what kind of content is included," Obama said in 2007. "But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would."

What I find amusing that there were still many anti-war activists shilling for Obama as the "anti-war" candidate. Obama will phase out troops merely in accordance to the timetable already proposed to the Bush administration, which will probably be hammered out before Obama is even sworn in. These troops will probably be transferred to Afghanistan, and possibly to peacekeeping missions in Darfur. I could make other idle predictions, but it seems that most foreign policy will remain unchanged between Obama and Bush.

While Obama will initially see some mandate for leftist policies, I foresee Republicans regaining majorities in either the House or the Senate, similar to what happened with Bill Clinton. This will be mostly due to what happens in the economy. Government intervention in the economy in the past year has not solved anything, and it will solve nothing in the next two years. The market will eventually recover on its own. Once the Republicans regain a foothold, like Bill Clinton, Obama will have to play towards the center.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

CATO Fuel Study: Giving Libertarians a Bad Name

I was browsing Drudge Report today and came across a new study today claiming that gas is as affordable today as the 1960's. A priori, the claim sounds ridiculous, as it seems completely out of touch with reality (my doubts were confirmed when going over the study's methodology). However, amusement quickly turned to dismay as it was apparently produced by the CATO institute, probably the publicly well-known libertarian think tank.

I was bothered by two reasons. First, that while CATO thinks that it may be making a reasoned argument (an argument that I'll deconstruct later), common experience by most people rejects the idea that gas prices are affordable. This disconnect caused a fury of comments to the article, claiming that CATO is out of touch with reality. Of course, what the commentariat does not know is that even many libertarians think that CATO is out of touch with reality, as a quick search of CATO on another popular libertarian site will reveal. CATO is merely reinforcing the stereotype that libertarians are out-of-touch moneyed elites (a false claim; if you drew a Venn diagram those two groups would hardly intersect).

This leads me to the second point, and that is that this CATO publication doesn't do anything to bring to light the core tenets of libertarianism: individualism and personal liberty. It almost seems like they are being polyannas for the current economic system (which isn't a free market, despite what the socialists claim). In fact, CATO's argument that standards of living have improved runs counter to an argument made on the Libertarian Party's website. Namely, that government intervention has caused standards of living to decline for a typical family:

Let's take a look at a median income family of four in the 1950s. At that time, the Federal income tax amounted to only 2% of the family budget. Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world.

By contrast, in the 1990s, the Federal income tax takes 25% of income for the same family of four. Taxes at all levels -- federal, state, and local; hidden and visible -- take about 50% of a family's income. We must work from January to June just to pay taxes.

It now requires two paychecks to keep many families from going bankrupt. Typically, a working mother brings home 32% of a family's income.

So, whether she chooses to work -- or must work to make ends meet -- taxes have stolen her contribution to the family budget. In other words, one spouse now works all year just to pay taxes.

Admittedly, CATO is only specifically looking at gasoline prices as an element of income. However, what's defined as "income" here is very suspect. The statistician who created this report is playing fancy shell game with the numbers. Namely, the "income" being used in the study is "average disposable income". There is an important difference in the definition between median and average (arithmetic mean). The average value can be easily distorted by outliers in the data (for example: Bill Gates), who has literally billions of dollars of disposable income. Median is more meaningful in economic data. Another problem is the meaning of "disposable". What costs are subtracted that are not considered "disposable"? What was a necessity in 1960 may not be a necessity in 2008, and vice versa. A personal computer, car, and cell phone, are considered indispensable today. In 1960, a stay-at-home-wife was considered indispensable. What amount of income is disposable is subjective, and cannot possibly be objectively measured. Even the definition of "income" is suspect. For example, there was a unique occurrence in the past decade where people cashed out the equity in their homes, and this shows up as "disposable income" as people bought SUVs, family vacations, and other fancy toys. However, while some view equity as "untapped wealth", taking out money in your home is merely assuming more debt. Money that has to be paid back later is not income.

My proposal to this study is to simply use median household income, minus income taxes, without adjusting for inflation. This information is relatively easy to obtain. Same goes for gas prices. In estimating how much pain people are feeling at the pump, find the median number of miles driven per household and the median fuel economy each year (a more difficult task). Following this methodology you'll probably find a much different result than CATO, and probably more in line with a typical person's experience. What conclusions will you be able to formulate on libertarianism though? Probably none.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Recharge any battery: save the environment by saving money

People are skeptical when I say economic efficiency means environmental efficiency. They often point out externalities as a counter argument, though if you defend property and individual rights, this problem can be mediated: pollute my land, and I sue you. Outside of the tort system, here's a way you, as an individual and as a consumer, can both save a lot of money and save the environment.

Don't throw away your batteries when they're dead! Any student of chemistry knows that a battery is a reversible chemical reaction. The truth is, many alkaline batteries can be recharged. Now the reason why I use the qualifier most is that some batteries are purposely designed to malfunction when you recharge them, to get you to buy more of course.

What I use is a discontinued Rayovak Recharger, which is a scaled down version of this one. I don't know why they stopped making these, but perhaps they did when people found out they could recharge any alkaline battery, as opposed to just rayovak brand rechargeables. Recently, Rayovak launched a new line of rechargeables, but I have not tested these out to see if these still work.

Ideally, any automatic recharger works (the kind that shut themselves off when they detect a full charge), but be careful testing. You can even do it yourself if you're adventurous. One thing I must point out though is that the chemicals inside the battery can irritate your skin, so if you see any sign of leakage, remove the battery with a thick paper towel and wash your hands. You'll notice a distinctive sour odor when batteries burst, which is another way of telling if they've malfunctioned. If the leakage got onto the charger or electronics, you can either wipe it down immediately or wait until it dries and dust it off. Also, if the battery stays warm a while after you've charged it, that means that the battery shorted and can no longer be used. Also, most batteries have some kind of expiration date on them, and this is a good rule of thumb as to your success in recharging the battery.

Ideally you should be able to recharge the batteries as often as you want until the battery can no longer be recharged. If you want, you can use a permanent marker and add a tally mark each time you recharge your batteries.

Good luck, have fun, and remember, safety first!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Benefits of Global Warming

Much ink has been spilled over all the potential dangers of global warming (or as has been recently rebranded--climate change). Hurricanes, rising sea levels, encroaching deserts--things these things have been happening to the planet since the end of the last ice age--are predicted to get progressively worse due to the warming of the planet. On the other hand, there are benefits to a warming planet. These include longer growing seasons, a net increase in habitable areas of the planet, and higher biodiversity. How do we know this? From both the fossil record and historical record from warm ages.

For instance, the first known explosion of biodiversity, the Cambrian explosion, happened only after the greatest ice age the planet has ever experienced had ended, also known as "Snowball Earth". Typically, other time periods where the Earth was warmer, also resulted in increased flora and fauna. For example, in the Early Carboniferous, which was warmer than today, plant growth was extensive and thick (due to higher CO2 and higher temperatures) and bacteria that break down plant matter did not yet exist; it resulted in the coal seams we have today. There is also the Mesozoic Era--the time of the dinosaurs--which was far warmer than it is today and there was a great diversity of animals. The first mammals and birds developed alongside the dinosaurs during this time. Even during one the most massive global warming events scientists have on record, also known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 56 million years ago, terrestrial animals thrived even though marine species died out. In fact, this was the time when our ancestors, primates, first appeared on the scene.

There are also human recorded events of times warmer than today. During the Medieval Warm Period, temperatures were so warm in the Northern Hemisphere, that wine grapes were grown in England. Greenland was warm enough to support a sedentary population, and Vikings even led excursions into North America long before Columbus. The High Middle Ages were in fact a time of relative plenty and cultural development. Our stereotype of the "Dark Ages" comes from the prejudice of the generations following the end of the warming period which resulted in famine, and the Black Plague probably didn't generate warm fuzzy feelings either. While the West eventually recovered, life during the little ice age was no picnic. Sure there were scientific and cultural advancements, but life for the common man really didn't improve that much over the medieval era. The shorter growing seasons resulted in crop failures, even to the point of having a devastating year without a summer.

One counterpoint I will address is what happens if the worst climate predictions of the next 100 years are true? Will any benefits be outweighed by the negative consequences? I'm convinced that even the worst warming will open up more land to human utility than is lost, as during warming periods tend to warm up the poles to a greater degree than the equator. Compare the vast frozen interiors of Siberia, Canada (and possibly Greenland and Antarctica) that will become warmer and more habitable, to arid areas near the equator that face desertification. Of course there will also be land lost due to rising sea levels, but even the greatest modeled sea level rise between 1990 and 2100 would be only 770 millimeters. Compare this to the late stone age when sea levels were three meters higher! The sea level change will be so gradual that any affected populations could easily move out of the way, probably a cost much cheaper than climate mitigation (can we just call it terraforming?), but that will be the topic of my proceeding post.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Wayne Allyn Root Speech in Chicago

Here is my video of Wayne Allen Root speaking last week, April 3rd 2008. For those that don't know, he's currently the front runner Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

You can download a high-res version of the film from bittorrent, or watch the lower-res youtube segments below:

You can also view Mr. Root debate the other candidates at the Heartland Libertarian Conference on April 5th.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Climate Data Is Off or Contradictory

When climate models are wrong, it doesn't help at all to have bad data. Of obvious importance to climate data is of course, temperature measurements. Countless stations around the country monitor all kinds of statistics, which ideally should be completely free of interference so that objective conclusions can be made.

These stations were originally placed at rural locations throughout the country, but due to our gorging on cheap sources of fossil fuels, suburbia has expanded far into the countryside, often engulfing weather stations in their wake. There is a common weather phenomenon associated with cities, known as the urban heat island. Because of the vast amounts of concrete, asphalt, pavement in cities, and the relative lack of greenery, cities tend to much hotter in sunshine than the country. The heat island effect is noticeable to the point where even a child can scientifically measure its existence. So one would think that having stations that go from being in a green zone to being in an urban zone would be problematic. The IPCC assures us that this does not matter: if a sensor has been in a heat zone for very long amount of time, it should display a consistently higher temperature, but not constant increase. I'm not certain if I buy this explanation. To see how massively urban areas have expanded, compare this map of Chicago around when temperatures began to be recorded, to this today:


View Larger Map

This is not to say that global warming isn't happening, it's that doubt shouldn't be cast on the extremity of predictions. Normally when a scientist conducts an experiment, and their data proves to be corrupted, they meet massive ridicule. Instead the IPCC has become indignant, saying the heat islands don't matter, as long as their measurements for ground temperatures match their data on oceans temperatures. However, independent sources say that conclusions based on oceanic data are ambiguous at best.

Lesson learned? If a set of data is unreliable, it's better to use data that's unambiguous and hard to fool--statistics can only repair data up to a point. This is why satellite data should be used as often as possible. Data can be recorded from anywhere on the globe, and it samples temperature form the atmosphere and is therefore prone to less variability than surface temperatures. Unfortunately, satellite data only goes as far back as mankind has had satellites. Weather balloon measurements serve as a good proxy, but even then those go back about fifty years. However, proponents of using surface temperatures don't like satellite measurements (which record temperatures in the atmosphere), because--surprise--they record less severe warming trends than for surface temperatures. Could this be the urban heat island effect in play? You be the judge.

Addendum 4/21/2008:In this post I neglected the man who is behind the verification of the climate data station--making sure that they are a minimum distance away from potential sources of the urban heat island effect--so that they give a more reliable measure of the temperature record. His name is Anthony Watts, a meteorologist who runs a blog that describes his research as well as SurfaceStations.org which keeps track of information about each station.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Climate Models Are Wrong

It wasn't so long ago, that there was a quite different campaign warning of the dangers of climate change. In the 1970's, the climate crisis du jour was global cooling. This is because temperatures had been declining for several decades, from the 1940's through the 1970's. It was predicted at the time that we were headed towards a global cooling catastrophe (loss of farmland, severe storms, etc) if the trends were to continue according to the best models science had to offer. The prevailing theory at the time was that aerosols given off by factories, automobiles, deforestation, farming, etc. was reflecting sunlight back into space from the atmosphere, causing cooling throughout the planet.

It turns out those models were wrong. In the 1980's the trend reversed, and we had global warming throughout the 1990's. In particular, 1998 was the warmest year on record. What were climate scientists to do? The new paradigm was that the cooling effect of aerosols was counteracted by the effect of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which has been increasing consistently since the Industrial Revolution. So the new mantra has become that our consumption of fossil fuels is gumming up the global climate system, causing it to warm up like a car with its windows up on a hot summer day. When reconstructing temperatures from the past and projecting them into the future, we had the hockey stick model, where due to accelerating carbon dioxide levels, we would have accelerating temperatures, until the planet turned into a smoldering cauldron, much like Venus.

However, it just so happens that if you take the hot, steamy year of 1998 as a reference point, we've had global cooling1:

World Temperatures according to the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction. Note the steep drop over the last year.

Which Leads us to Dr. Miklós Zágoni, a climate specialist who worked for NASA. Since the climate predictions of massive global warming turned out to be wrong as of late, he tasked himself to refine the climate models. It turned out that the carbon dioxide model for global warming made a flawed assumption in its equation. Namely, to simplify one of the thermodynamics equations, an assumption was made that the atmosphere has infinite height. Since I have an engineering degree, it's not unusual to see equations simplified using assumptions--with the understanding that the results would be identical when the assumptions are made. In this case though, Dr. Zágoni discovered that accelerating heating would not happen, that there would be a ceiling to the amount of global warming due to carbon dioxide. This sounds like good news! We won't all die, and we won't need complex and onerous carbon legislation! Dr. Zágoni's reward? He was summarily defrocked and excommunicated by NASA.

Is this really about science, or is it as much about orthodoxy, bureaucratic inertia, and grant money? Perhaps if we have problems predicting weather into the news ten days, maybe we should be wary of making temperature predictions for the next 100 years.

Update 2008/3/31: I think the best model that explains global warming (as opposed to the prevailing anthropogenic CO2-based theory of global warming) is the one which ties global temperatures directly to solar activity. The increased presence of CO2 in the atmosphere would be explained mostly that it would be released from the oceans as they warmed; as opposed to being a cause of the warming they would be a symptom.

1 It was actually a challenge to find temperature data for the past 10 years. A little too convenient, if you ask me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dr. Zágoni or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Warming

This post isn't about global warming denialism. In fact I accept that the climate changes all the time. At one time glaciers covered much of the Earth, and during another period, Antarctica and Greenland were verdant and covered in forests. I propose the following: that the moderate global warming that has happened in the past 100 years is a boon to human development and prosperity, with overall greater benefits than detriments. Extreme runaway global warming will not happen, and the more data that comes out, the clearer that becomes. One prediction is clear though: by attempting to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it will require more oppressive use of government to enforce regulations, and cause a massive disruption of the economy. I will be publishing a series covering these points, including who is Dr. Miklós Zágoni, and link them back below.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anti-War Movement Hijacked by Communists and Islamist Apologists

Since today was the 5 year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, I decided to check out the anti-war rally in downtown Chicago, which happened to start just down the street from where I work. As the above link will attest, I was aware of the some of the socialist intentions of the event, but decided to give the organizers the benefit of the doubt that it was going to be a straight-up focus on the war and give a rational presentation of arguments to back up our side of the issue. It turns out I was dead wrong.

At first I was entertained by some of the more creative and individual protesters that weren't affiliated with the leftist organizers of the event. These included Jesus Christ with the Cross, Patriotic Puppets, a Revolutionary in a tri-corner hat, St. Gertrude Parish, and few "billionaires for Democrats":

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Though as soon as the speeches started, the whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth as the anti-war issue was used as a linchpin to forward all sorts of political ideologies only marginally related to war. There were anti-corporate socialists who wanted to use the war money to fund socialized projects. Hey, I happen to like the corporate overlords who pay my salary. As far as the cost of the war is concerned I'd rather get my money BACK through lower taxes and lower inflation, and not have it spend on more big-government boondoggles, thank you very much. There was a Mexican nationalist who tried to link the illegal immigration issue to the fact that non-citizens are "coerced" into the army. Last time I checked our army consisted entirely of volunteers, and immigrant veterans tend to be rewarded handsomely with citizenship. There was a person ranting against Israel and for the Palestinian Intifada. I'll get more into that insanity later. There was no end to the grandstanding on people's pet issues, and relatively little time left to take a principled stance against the war.

After the speech we started marching, and this is when the madness truly began. If you click on the image below, you'll see that these are members of the International Socialist Organization, or put another way, Revolutionary Marxists:

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An organization that should have died with the fall of the Berlin Wall when communism collapsed under it's own crushing weight of oppression, and should have been buried along with the millions of deaths it caused throughout the 20th century. Yes, the very people who would love nothing better than to reproduce the hell on Earth that is North Korea and Cuba on our soil. But wait, there's more! I managed to scribble down one of the chants that they started up on the march, reproduced here:

Long live the Intifada!
Intifada, Intifada!
Free free Palestine,
Long live Palestine!

Repeated ad infinitum, all while holding "Stop Racism, Stop The War" signs in Arabic. Of course, the irony is that the Intifada is a fucking war, that antisemitism is rampant in the Intifada, and that the Islamists would be more than willing to throw the commies under the bus in the quest to re-instate the Caliphate and Sharia Law in Palestine. Pure madness.

Another interesting aspect of the march was how shockingly civil it was (given the rampant communist and black-flag-and-mask anarchist presence). There was a sizable police presence (as taken in pictures below), but there was absolutely no conflict. There were exactly two intersections that featured riot police and policemen on horseback, but they seemed positively bored out of their skulls, and seemed to be more of a curiosity than the protesters, who were photographed almost relentlessly. At other places, the march was flanked by ordinary beat cops who looked like their couldn't wait to end their shift. Onlookers and protesters alike crossed the police "lines" without so much as a sneer. I took a picture of what I thought looked like a police version of an Active Denial System, but it turned out to be an ordinary TracStar satellite dish.

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Naturally, the media was there to gawk at the scene:

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Here are some random pictures of the protest:

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To end on a positive note, the march was worth it purely as an opportunity to take pictures of a city with world-class architecture--at night:

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Update 2008/3/20: One thing I forgot to mention was that there was a "United Nations" contingent there flying a large UN flag. The irony, of course, is that one of the pretenses for going to war was over non-compliance with UN resolutions.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Getting Windows Vista NOT to screw up networking

I recently bought a low-end laptop, and much to my surprise, it came Windows Vista instead of Windows XP. It sure looks pretty, and, in fact, I'm using to write this blog write now. However, Windows Vista has an infuriating flaw.

It won't network with Windows.

First a little background on my network topography. I run Windows 2003 Server as a router, file server, and print server. I've gotten everything, and I mean everything to read file shares on this network. I've gotten almost every Windows OS (save Vista) to work: Windows 95, Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Professional 64-bit. I've even gotten openSUSE (a flavor of Linux) to read network shares using Samba, with the small exception of folders on NTFS drives.

And Windows Vista? Absolutely nothing. Yes, I can connect to the internet, but I see nothing on the network. Microsoft Help pointed me in the direction of installing the LLTD (Link-Layer Topology Discovery) protocol. Of course, it can only install in Windows XP. I forced it to install using compatibility mode on Windows 2003, and added the protocol to my network card, and rebooted the server.

Four hours of a wasted evening later, I can now not only finally see the shared files on the network, but I can also see the position of my 2003 server in my network. If it had taken one hour longer, I would have torched my laptop. Let's just say I don't expect the average home user to figure out this problem on their own, and may cause a small amount of chaos in IT departments across the country. Thanks, Microsoft.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Shuttering the Chicago Ron Paul Office

Since Mitt Romney's "suspension" of his campaign, the chance of a brokered Republican Convention this year is close to zero. Because of this, the need for a national campaign through November is over, though Ron Paul will still compete in remaining states. Since Illinois' primary was this past week, the campaign has decided to shutter all the offices here and transfer remaining campaign materiel elsewhere. So, I went over to the Chicago office to pick up some stuff and help with "striking the set". It was a somber affair mostly, akin to packing up all your things for a permanent move, where you know you'll leave behind friends and memories. Overall the office suited its purpose, sharing the ideas of liberty, and I met all kinds of interesting free-minded folks. It's good to know that independent yet generous people (all the equipment in the office was donated) are still around, and will be around for along time to come. I took some final photographs of the Chicago Ron Paul office, before it passed into history:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Ron Paul Portrait Is Unveiled in Chicago

Yesterday, I was at an event at the Chicago Ron Paul Office, where they unveiled a new portrait of Ron Paul by the artist Caleb O'Connor. I got a chance to interview him, and ask him about his work and what inspired him.

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Breaching the Great Firewall of China

China, though it has gone through an extended period of modernization and economic liberalization, is still nonetheless tightly controlled by the Communist Party. The the plan is that their educated classes will too busy to think about politics when they are playing with cars, digital gadgets, and voting for the next Chinese Pop Idol. There is, however, the problem of the Internet. It is the ultimate beacon of freedom: a decentralized, hard-to-control, morass of ideas and commerce. Thus was born the Golden Shield Project, though it's more commonly known as the "Great Firewall of China".

It's aim is straightforward: to control the information passing through and circulating within the Chinese Internet. Filtering technologies allow the blocking of websites (imagine a Chinese version of Prison Planet), and search terms such as "Democracy". Personal emails can be opened and email traffic can be disrupted. But more importantly, the internet is used as a surveillance tool - if there are repeated attempts to subvert authority, IP addresses can be traced to real-world addresses. The fear of being sent to prison is usually enough for most common folk to avoid discussion of politics online.

Of course, there are ways of circumventing the Chinese Firewall. The biggest weaknesses are encrypted traffic and anonymous traffic. Two technologies that I know can exploit these weaknesses with ease, and allow the Chinese people to exercise freedoms in ways they never even thought possible.

Tor - an anonymity network

What Tor does is somewhat complicated, but the end results are fairly easily explained. The user's IP address is hidden - making the user invisible. However, the internet traffic itself can still be examined, so by looking at patterns in the data coming out of Tor's "exit nodes", a person's identity can be ascertained through the information itself. All cloaking devices have their weaknesses, just like that episode of Star Trek. The user must still take certain other precautions, such as using data encryption.

Freenet - a censorship-resistant distributed data store

Achieving complete anonymity and encryption of data might require abandonment of the traditional way internet works, such as using Freenet. Very simply put, Freenet piggybacks on the regular internet, allowing content to be distributed all over the world anonymously. Moreover, if one node is knocked out, the content remains as all the pieces are distributed everywhere. While this prevents dynamic content such as interactive websites using databases, "static" content such as text, music, movies can be stored. This would allow Chinese citizens to read books, watch movies, and listen to music otherwise banned on the mainland. It more resembles a filesharing network that way, though it is completely anonymous, distributed, and allows complete freedom of speech.

One question remains: if the Chinese Government blocks access to certain websites (including the ones that supply the above-mentioned software), how do the Chinese get their hands on these technologies? Unfortunately, the only way is to do it the "old-fashioned way" - distributing copies by CD. In that sense, you must also breach the old Great Wall of China.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rob Blagojavich Holds CTA Riders Hostage

I got the following email forward today:

It's been a long ride. Today, the Senate and House have finally approved a long-term plan to fund transit.

This bill will help CTA, Metra, and Pace avoid coming fare increases and service cuts, and help to stabilize the three agencies for years to come. After 25 years of waiting, this is it!

However, the Governor must still sign the bill.

Governor Blagojevich has said that, while supportive of transit funding, he will rewrite or "improve" the bill sent to him by the legislature. The Governor does not have the power to just rewrite legislation--what he's talking about is using an "amendatory veto."

An Amendatory Veto suggests changes to the bill. The bill would go back to the House and Senate. The legislature can either vote to accept the Governor's changes, vote to override the changes (with a 3/5 majority), or let the bill die.

An Amendatory Veto would (at least) delay a solution to the transit crisis or (at worst) endanger the solution altogether.

Please call the Governor's office today to tell him to sign HB 656, without an amendatory veto, immediately. Tell him that an amendatory veto is still a veto, not a signature.

Governor Rod Blagojevich
(217) 782-6830

(courtesy of SaveChicagolandTransit.com)

I've had my grievances with Save Chicagoland Transit. I'm not a fan of taxpayer bailouts of corporate monopolies either. However, I agree with the advocacy group for this reason: Governor Blagojevich is violating the separation of powers in government. The executive branch of the government is there to execute the law. While it does have veto powers, it does not have legislative powers. As of this writing, the governor issued this statement:

While the Governor has been clear in his opposition to increasing the sales tax to fund mass transit, he said today he will accept the approach passed by the General Assembly in House Bill 656 in order to avert devastating service cuts and fare increases, but will use his amendatory veto authority to make sure seniors citizens can use public transportation for free.

Translation: the Governor vetoed the bill. But to somehow claim moral authority over the legislative branch, he won't sign it until senior citizens ride for free. In this case, he isn't saying "do it for the children", but "do it for the old folks". This puts the legislative branch in quite a bind. They could accept the governor rewriting the law (something beyond the governors supposed powers), but be stuck with the task of finding extra funds, or cut other programs that help old folks. Or they could override the veto with a supermajority and be smeared as being "insensitive" to seniors, and be set up for defeat by governor-sponsored opponents in the next election.

The governor knows that this veto will take up precious time. He is probably aware that pay cuts, fare increases, and service cuts will begin by January 20th. As a consumer of RTA services (I ride the Metra now instead of the CTA, but they fall under the same budget), I'm incensed that the Governor would use me and fellow riders as a weapon to bully the legislature to get his version of a bill through.

Let him known that you won't fall for his doublespeak, a veto truly is a veto, and he holds both the legislature and RTA ridership in contempt.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ron Paul's showing in Iowa decent, but there is a silver lining

Though Ron Paul's fifth place showing in Iowa was lower than some had hoped, there is actually some good news to be gleaned from his vote total for his future performance in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Average polling data indicated that Ron Paul had risen to 7.6% in polls by January 2nd. With his 10% showing at the Iowa caucus, he showed that he could bring out at least a third more voters to the booths than polls indicated. Common sense says that polling will never be perfect, but on the other hand it may be true that polling really does exclude Ron Paul support because they're young, never voted before, or do not use land lines. If this pattern holds, Ron Paul will always do better than what's reported by traditional polling methods.

There are also certain elements of the Iowa population where Ron Paul trounced the competition. According to MSNBC's exit polling, Dr. Paul dominated among independents who voted Republican with 29% of the vote, and with voters who described themselves as angry with the Bush administration he scored a whopping 54%. Since New Hampshire expresses both of those demographics strongly, and plays host to the libertarian-oriented Free State Project, he stands a good chance of placing highly and even winning that state.

Another interesting fact is that Ron Paul was one of only three candidates to place first in an Iowa County (the other two being Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney of course). This happened to be Jefferson County, Iowa. If anybody knows what makes Jefferson County special, please let me know. This is definitely good news that the campaign is able to target locations where he's popular and draw out the voters. You can view how Republicans placed by county, here.

Update: here are some more predictions on Ron Paul and other Republican candidates, as well as the number of delegates assigned per candidate.