Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Case for a Scientific Nation: Part Two

Last time I made it clear whom I blame for 90% of the tragic collapse of American political discourse, and especially the War on Science.  Indeed, I will finish (in a bit) by quoting one of the most eloquent calls that I have seen, for a return to confidence in our future-oriented nation.

But first...

== Where democrats have sinned, too ==

Oh, I could cite figures to you. Like the fact that only around 6% of U.S. scientists are still Republicans. (And that includes folks like me, whose GOP registration is both nostalgic and "tactical.")    Still, it's true that Democrats do not have a blemish-free record when it comes to science.

Certainly, the dems increased research budgets and ended most political censorship of peer-review commissions. They repaired the crippling damage done (deliberately) by George Bush upon our energy and efficiency research programs, goosed the now-healthy auto industry into a burst of mileage-saving measures, and steered manned spaceflight from an absurd lunar boondoggle to privatization of launch and reaching toward planetary resources. Polemically, I have reason to believe that President Obama is at least friendly to the notion that we should be a civilization propelled by curiosity.

Still,   Go look up Science Left Behind by Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell...about the rise of anti-science tendencies on the far left. A secondary but very real problem, described by a founder of Science2.0.  Anyone who talks for very long with a genuine American leftist -- as opposed to the vastly more numerous moderate liberals -- can quickly see that romantic-nostalgic spite toward science and technology is not the sole province of Fox-watchers.

(The real difference between the far-right and the far-left? Both extremes are crazy. Both despise science. But one of them owns and operates an entire political party and ran the nation off a cliff. The other dominates a hundred university soft-studies departments, and almost nothing else. Big deal.)

In fact, let me take this farther and lay down my biggest science-related grievance against democrats. I will never forgive Nancy Pelosi for what she did not do during her brief tenure as Speaker of the House.

One move might have made clear the two parties' pro vs anti science traits. That action would have been to restore the independent advisory apparatus that Congress used to maintain, from World War II all the way until 1995, when Newt's radical neocons banished the Office of  Technology Assessment, kicking out every fact-checker and irritating expert who might dispute polemical dogma with inconvenient "data."

Amid the battles over Health reform and other major fights, this would have been a trivial side matter to pass in an afternoon, funding OTA for twenty years in advance and making sure all congress-critters would have neutral bean-counters and nerds at their elbows, irritatingly murmuring "Well... actually, the facts say..."

What could be more important, as our politicians are asked to construct policies about a rapidly changing technological environment, with every issue dependent upon scientific  insight? Both as a practical matter and as a declaration of fundamental political difference, no other action would have spoken as loudly or carried as much weight with our nation's knowledge castes.

I take Ms. Pelosi's failure to fix this very seriously. It disqualifies her from leadership, should the dems re-take the House. Seriously. A total blow-it.  Go with someone else.

== The real problem and solution, eloquently put ==

But enough with being evenhanded.  The matter before is is fundamental.  As fundamental as freedom, or the basic laws of economics.

This needs some punch. So let me hand the mike over to internationally renowned tech-business pundit Mark Anderson, of the Strategic News Service, who wrote the following, just after watching the brilliant landing of our Curiosity space probe on Mars:

Science is reality. At a time when a large and increasing fraction of the U.S. population does not "believe in" science (i.e., objectively provable reality) - or, worse, has bought into the idea that science is just one choice on the reality menu - NASA has again given concrete reason to understand that science works, and that science is not an option, not a theory, not a menu item, but instead represents the finest efforts of human minds in understanding, and addressing, objective reality.

Those on Earth who currently think that science is a political football should take note: not only are you endangering your own reputation, you are endangering the welfare of your constituents, and today, of the planet itself. 

Any person or party which mocks science should be considered for what he or it is: a threat to the welfare and future of us all.  Under the influence of political propagandists, misled religious zealots, and truly dangerous television and radio empires (such as Fox (Not) News and Rush Limbaugh), too many people today have been led to believe that science is in some way an option to opinion.

Science is as optional as gravity.  Ignorant delusion is the only real option.

It is time for the U.S. to catch back up to the world in this matter, and recognize the value of scientific study and theory, the use of scientific consensus in guiding public policy, and the wonders that we can achieve when we abandon self-aggrandizing political fantasy in favor of objective scientific knowledge. 

We should use this marvelous achievement to create a new cultural change in the United States, returning us to the group intelligence of past eras, when no one doubted that an experiment, done with the same result in many locations, demonstrated an objective truth.  Not an opinion, not a religious position, not a political chip, but another permanent addition to our ever-rising mountain of human scientific knowledge.

The world owes much to the people of NASA, of JPL, and to the taxpayers of the U.S., who have achieved the most important step in space exploration yet attempted.  This was done by a willing and informed government, working with private contractors, paid for with taxes.  It stands as one of the greatest of tributes to human intelligence yet achieved, shoulder to shoulder with decoding the human genome. 

I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch the scene inside JPL headquarters in Pasadena, as Curiosity makes its way safely to the Martian surface.  We owe a great deal to those pictured in their moment of triumph, and citizens of the U.S. owe it to themselves, if they wish to remain a great nation, to put a rapid end to the rise of ignorance in their country which threatens scientific endeavor, and the acceptance of scientific findings. 

Our thanks go out to all of the people who, using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, just flew a car-sized laboratory across the solar system, landed it safely at the end of four lines under a crane under a rocket under a parachute that popped out from a targeted aerobraking shell, from a ballistic missile, to bring us yet more scientific knowledge about the world.

It is time for all Earth inhabitants to recognize the value of science.  In doing so, we will find common ground for agreeing on other important things.

Wow. I could not have said it better than Mark just did. All the way to his tone of militancy.  Because it is, indeed, time for moderate pragmatists to stoke up their own sense of militant ferocity and drive.

1333202991725.cachedIf you are unconvinced by the plight of the middle class, or the diametrically opposite records of the two parties at fostering economic growth or entrepreneurial startups, or the blatant oligarchic power grab of Citizens United, or the fact that all our present deficit comes from just four GOP "programs"...*

...then at least ponder science. Hated by viewers of Fox, adored by viewers of Jon Stewart.  That pretty much says it all.

Return to Part 1: The Case for a Scientific Nation

See also: Unscientific America: Denying Science at our Peril

----- AFTER-THOUGHTS -------

*  GOP "programs" that made nearly all of today's skyrocketing U.S. debt. Two multi-trillion dollar land wars of endless quagmire-attrition in Asia, attempting futile "nation building" in places where we're hated... plus vast tax gifts to the oligarchy, that they have not spent on the promised productive factories, not ever... plus Medicare Part D for which no funding source was ever devised, just a vast, red-ink gift to Big Pharma.  Add them up, plus the effects of Bush's "ownership society" deliberate asset bubble....  Remove them and what do you get?  We are back to Bill Clinton, paying down the deficit every year.  And you would put those guys back in charge?  Really?


David Brin said...

A riddle: Why does every top conservative who has a new book coming out scurry as fast as possible to line up a guest slot on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show? In order to sell books, of course. It is the most effective show on television at selling massive numbers of copies... despite that Stewart's core audience consists mostly of young liberals.

Um, now how could that be? Aren't young liberals illiterate dogma followers, uninterested in opposing or different points of view?

Apparently, the answer to that question is... not.

This is one reason why Stewart has on his show more "opposing" guests - with whom he argues amiably and humorously - than all of Fox has on all of their shows, combined.

Ask your crazy uncle to explain that. Watch him try.

Acacia H. said...

Do you know what I would find hilarious? If Barack Obama, during his debates with Mitt Romney, would bring a small package with him to the debate. A folded piece of cloth. And if Mitt Romney ever says anything about "climate science is just a theory" excuse himself, hand Romney the small package, and say "you know what else is a theory? Gravity. So here, feel free to put this on and fly out of the stadium using non-technological means."

Naturally, there will be an elephant emblazoned on the back of the cape, for Stuper Republican! And once everyone is finished laughing at Romney and the Republicans for their anti-science opinions on National Television, we can elect grownups who realize how the world works... and it's not by magical wand-waving Christian (or other faiths) religious beliefs.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

KeithCu said...


I don't think the Democrats are any more pro-science than the Republicans. In fact, we believe that rather than letting the government choose winners and losers, we can let the free market. It wasn't any government mandate that made cellphones evolve so quickly. There are many examples of bad investing by government such as corn-based ethanol and Solyndra ($500M lost.) Conventional wind turbines are inefficient, all the power is up at higher altitude. But nearly everyone working on wind today is doing turbines because that is what the government has been pushing. Republicans aren't against the science of new forms of energy production, we just want to let the free market develop things. So just because we are against government investments doesn't mean we are against scientific advancements. We'd prefer a general R&D tax credit rather than handing out cash.

There are only 6% of scientists who are Republicans but that is because they tend to live in cities and be influenced by popular culture where late-night jokes against Republicans outnumber those against Democrats by 5-1.

The auto industry is not healthy. GM may go bankrupt again after the election: http://www.humanevents.com/2012/08/16/gm-could-be-heading-for-bankruptcy-again/ Mandating every car get 55 mpg is not the same as making it happen. In fact, I think the mandate will be repealed or replaced with a fine. It is basically impossible to implement.

Investments in science are threatened with a bad economy. Obama's budget this year adds about $1.4T to the deficit. And to Obama, helping the poor and doing social justice and providing free contraception are more important than space. You'll remember Obama said that outreach to the muslim world was one of the top priorities of the NASA administration: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2010/02/nasa-plans-more-outreach-to-muslim-countries.html Obama is not a dreamer about what can exist, he wants to redistribute what does.

Your analysis that the Democrats are better with economics than Republicans is simplistic, but more than that, it pretends that Obama versus Romney is a choice between two generic politicians. They are individual people with ideas and speeches and records and they should be judged that way. There is no question in my mind that Romney would be better for the economy than Obama. I see JFK as way to the right of Obama. Nearly every economic metric is worse since Obama became President, and Romney would turn things around like Reagan did to Carter's economy. Many forget Carter was a nuclear physicist. Being smart doen't mean you have the right policies or leadership skills. I don't like Romney, but I see a man who can succeed and turn things around. To pick but one example, he will create polices that encourage energy production which will lower prices. This can stimulate more manufacturing in the United States because it is more economic competitive. He can also trim other regulations, lower healthcare and litigation costs, inflation, etc. A roaring economy is where companies can afford to hire scientists. Obamacare adds taxes on medical devices. That is anti-science.

I briefly looked at the link about which party generally does a better job with economic growth the analysis is too simplistic. Clinton had a Republican Congress to deal with. They pushed him towards a balanced budget and other stuff related to economic growth. At the time, people talked about Clinton was useless because he was mostly just signing the legislation Newt gave him. Anyway, this is about Obama who is economic-illiterate versus Romney, who is not.

David Brin said...

"Only Hinduism has been able to keep pace with the Mormons, maintaining its longtime dominance in the field of Reincarnatronic technology..." so sayeth the Onion!


Agh! But is a morm-on a boson or a fermion?Or is that a question not to be lept-on Just don't let it give you a hadron.

Jack said...

"Anyway, this is about Obama who is economic-illiterate versus Romney, who is too"

There , corrected your typo

Tony Fisk said...

via @drgrist: National Police Union refuses to endorse Romney. The last time they did not endorse a presidential candidate was 98 years ago.

Could the GOP have chosen a worse team than a narcissist and a compulsive liar?

I can think of only two reasons for this:
a) they are supremely confident they can game the system. Indeed, such is their contempt of democratic process and other 'populist' gestures that they have deliberately put up awful candidates.
b) Americans really have thrown enlightenment in the garbage bin.

I consider option a to be a good deal more likely! (and think such a strategy has a low risk of success)

More worryingly: the harvest will be in soon. There won't be much of it this year. High food prices and riots will probably get blamed on the man in charge. Given that the poor harvest has a lot to do with a weather pattern driven by climate change, it would be extremely ironic if that happens! Will be delighted if Americans don't go with this scenario in November!

David Brin said...

KeithCu, you are armwaving and indeed, you actually believe no such thing at all. Your party has been instrumental in putting a small clade of a couple of thousand golf-buddy CEOs in charge of most economic decisions, picking "winners and losers" and making the taxpayers pick up liabilities while keeping all profits.

You make grand assertions about things like GM going bankrupt... and grand assertions are all you have had for 20 years. That Saddam had nukes. That Obama would confiscate all guns. Meanwhile you evade actual challenges that are not assertions but flat out wagers.

Example: name for us one unambiguous metric of national health that improved under George W. Bush. One. Just one. If you can find one (and I bet you cannot) would you care to bet me that I cannot name TWENTY such metrics that plummeted for every one that improved?

That is called outcomes analysis. Actual, real, verifiable outcomes. Try these facts: Economic growth vs debt. http://www.angrybearblog.com/2007/08/comparing-presidents-rankings-of.html

In fact, you are diametrically opposite to truth. Almost every economic indicator has IMPROVED under Obama, since he took office ion a genuine depression. Try getting ANY facts straight. Instead of waving anecdotes like "muslim" tales at us.

The deficit is almost entirely the result of two multi-trillion$ wars of "nation building" attrition in Asia that accomplished nothing, Medicare Part D, and vast tax gifts to Romney's caste of (not) "job creators.

Above all, you made it plain when you said all scientists are politically stupid because of where they live. The smartest, most knowledgeable people alive, but your shallow aphorisms and not-true assertions make you smarter than them! ALL of them! And Red (rural AMerica is smarter than Blue America.

Let's see. Which America thrives, does most of the capitalism, nearly all the inventing, nearly all the entrepreneurial startups, pays the most taxes (while Red America) sucks in net welfare)?

WHich one has higher domestic violence, murder, teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs, abortion, street crime... and so on? Yeah, right, they are so much wiser.

Jack said...

Aside from your stated fact the Republicans have let the crazies drive the bus, I see both sides about equal in their anti science crazy
Look at the global warming debate
The right can't see what is observable from outside their window and with a little reading of history.
But the left proposes solutions that are unworkable and often fail simple arithmetic tests.
And if you get in the middle of the debate and try to say anything that is grounded in fact and simple arithmetic they both jump on you.

Tony Fisk said...

I wonder if a morm-on is a form of quakr rather than a glopon?

(All faiths have rooms in the one house of the E8. Lurkon challenge #11)

Tony Fisk said...

'Carter was a nuclear physicist...'

WTF!!? I thought, reaching for the wikipedia entry. Since when was a US president a nuclear physicist!?? Since... well, James Earl Carter. (maybe more an engineer than a physicist but.. I'll pay that. Oh, the things you learn!)

Anonymous said...

Remember Romney's convention applause line that:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise … is to help you and your family."

I heard a great comment that 100 years from now that line will be in every documentary made about the 21st century.

KeithCu said...

The housing crisis was caused by the Democrat party: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2008-10-05-1.html
It was an article in Forbes that claimed that GM would go bankrupt again.
I can say that Bush's economic results are in general much better than Obama's. Bush's average unemployment rate was 5.2% whereas Obama's is about 8%. Obama is running up the deficit at more than twice as fast. Energy prices are going up under Obama compared to Bush. The Fed is inflating the currency to stimulate the economy, which is a hidden tax. Healthcare prices are rising faster under Obama. This is the weakest recovery ever in terms of adding jobs back to the economy. This compares Reagan to Obama: http://washingtonexaminer.com/gallery/articleid/2506026/pictures/2532896

Obama isn't working on the deficit. He created a debt commission and then threw their results in the trash. His budgets get zero votes in the Congress. http://thehill.com/video/senate/246563-portman-unanimous-vote-against-obama-budget-a-failure-of-leadership He's hoping people won't notice.

There is a lot of propaganda towards the Democrat position. These people can be smart, but they just don't notice all the jokes are pointed one-way, etc. We live in an Orwellian world, Pravda is less biased today than the Washington DC groupthink.

I grew up in Detroit. I can tell you that the Democrats have destroyed that city. Same with Chicago. http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/splash/13062350-418/rahm-emanuel-celebrates-a-record-graduation-rate.html.

Jack is correct that the leftists plan for global warming is ridiculously expensive. They might believe in science, but not math.

Acacia H. said...

I would rather trust The Economist than Forbes concerning the state of the American Economy. Forbes has a decided anti-Democrat bias and does not bother trying to be balanced in his viewpoints or reporting. The Economist is a British journal and thus not moved by U.S. party political views.

Rob H.

Stefan Jones said...

So, what are the Republican solutions to the problem of global warming?

If you admit that it is real, you also admit that there are going to be consequences. Severe, worldwide consequences. Consequences that will change weather, agriculture, water availability, and more. The costs of doing nothing would be enormous. The consequences would hit unequally, meaning a collective effort would be required on the remediation end. A collective effort would be required to prevent things from getting worse.

Is the Right up to that?

Oh, screw it. From the rhetoric and talking points I've seen here of late, a discussion about constructive solutions won't be in the offing.

* * *
Hey, how's this for cool?

Geek in Chief: Barack Obama Redecorated the Oval Office With Patent Models

'Who doesn't like a bunch of China lining their office's walls?

Barack Obama, for one. As he told Michael Lewis in a new profile in Vanity Fair, earlier administrations "had a bunch of plates in [the Oval Office]." But, he added, "I'm not a dish guy."

Instead, he lined the shelves with original patent models from key American inventions. Pointing at Samuel Morse's1849 telegraph model, he told Lewis, "This is the start of the Internet right here." He also has Henry Williams' 1877 steamboat-wheel design and John A. Peer's 1874 gear-cutting-machine model.

Obama explains:
They rest on the bookshelves in the Oval Office, and I see them every day. For me, they are a reminder of what has always defined America's people: our spirit; a restless searching for the right solution to any problem; an inclination to dream big dreams, and an insistence on making those dreams come true; an enduring faith, even in the darkest hours, that brighter days lie ahead. That is the genius of America. And that's why, even though I can't predict what will happen over the next 40 years, I am -- and always will be -- full of hope about what the future holds.

Naum said...

@KeithCu, simply perusing empirical economic history completely demolishes your hypothesis on 'R' v. 'D' economy management. First, as statistics Bill Clinton cited: Since 1960, Republicans have controlled the White House 28 years, and the Democrats 24. And in those years, Democratic administrations have created 42 million jobs, and Republican ones 24 million jobs. This, according to a Bloomberg analysis of BLS data, is accurate and true. It's a devastating set of numbers--and by the way, the stock market has performed better during Democratic tenures as well, as another Bloomberg analysis showed that returns on investment under Democrats have done about nine times better than under Republicans).

And here is a more comprehensive "presidential economics" review, though dated (2004, but I hardly think GWB 2005-2009 offer much of a counterpoint) -- and the author pledges to update the data before election night. He looks at some other social categories too, and the verdict is almost unanimous, across the charts of indicators.

Your assertion about scientists "influenced by pop culture" strikes me as silly as the pronouncements that minorities (in a recent poll, Romney scored 0%, yes **0**, of the African-American registered voters) are stupid dupes of the Democratic party.

Rob said...

Ah KeithCu... it's not the best of ideas to quote from Orson Scott Card around here. (I'm a fan of his writing and a member of the Hatrack.com community...)

But I'll engage you on that one:

Politicians who "loosen[ed] the rules of lending" didn't conceive of SDO's or default-swaps. They didn't innovate the three-year balloon or the intro rate or the decision not to check credit.

They didn't scream "YOU CAN GET CASH BECAUSE YOU OWN A HOME" over and over again, tempting everyone.

We did that to ourselves. All of us. Both parties, all points of view. The problems were too generally distributed to be the fault of any one faction. If you triple-mortgaged up your home and then lost your job or the payment got too high, you lost it. Caveat Emptor. If the buyer managed to read the 400-pages of documents he was asked to sign at closing; mostly, the title company just wants you to hurry up.

Everything else about that ornery.org piece is a shrill complaint that Card's point of view wasn't venerated as the truth, or is reasoning based on that false premise.

Unknown said...

KeithCu wrote:

I'll take just one of your claims, that of the housing crisis:

The housing crisis was caused by the Democrat party: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2008-10-05-1.html

Here's what the article says:

This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration.
It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans.
What is a risky loan? It's a loan that the recipient is likely not to be able to repay.
The goal of this rule change was to help the poor -- which especially would help members of minority groups. But how does it help these people to give them a loan that they can't repay? They get into a house, yes, but when they can't make the payments, they lose the house -- along with their credit rating.

So, according to this OP-ED that cites no references - no BLS data, no FED or bank reporting data, no data from realtors, etc - it wuz done by de darkies.
That's like the the English Duke and Lost Dauphin, who after cleaning out every house in the town, runs upon a mob looking for their belongings. The Duke and Dauphin, knowing their necks might well wear a rope in short order, respond by pointing to a black guy walking down the street.

"Hey," said the Duke. "Don't he got himself some nice britches wearing on him there?"

"I say," replied Dauphin, "he sure looks like just a powerful kind of lazy good-for-nothing that shouldn't have something so nice."

The mob, thus distracted, ran toward the unsuspecting black man. Upon hearing the commotion, he eyed the oncoming scene back with justified fear, and then ran off in the other direction as fast as he could. The mob gave chase.

The street thus cleared, the Duke and Dauphin patted off their duds as clouds of dust settled from the commotion.

"I say," said the Duke as he patted a carpetbag full of loot, "Why'nt we find our way out of here now?"

"Such ideas as yours come but once a century there Duke. Once I reclaim my throne from them rascals in Paris, you just the kind of man for my royal court!"


Let's start with the Savings and Loan crisis from the mid 1980s through to the early 1090s. The Garn - St. Germain Depository Act of 1982 deregulated savings and loans, allowing allowing them to offer money market funds, free from withdrawal penalties or interest rate regulation. It allowed thrifts to invest up to 40% of their assets in non-residential lending, thus increasing risk substantially.

By 1985 all sorts of connected people, like Neil Bush - son of then Vice President George HW Bush, brother to George W. Bush - who bought S&Ls and then began making vast loans to friends for unsustainable projects that were known to fail. The friends kept the money, the S&Ls failed.

See: Inside Job: The Looting of American's Savings and Loans.
By Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker, and Paul Muolo
McGraw Hill Publishing
Copyright 1989.
ISBN: 0-07-050230-7

Wikipedia has a fine overview of the subject:



Unknown said...

That was the test run.

Next, in 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which created a wall between private banking and lending and investment banking. This was due to the heavy debt overhang from borrowing money to speculate on stocks that led to the 1929 stock market crash. The US Economy stabilized for decades after this. Certainly there were recessions and boom years, but never was there a bubble of such proportions as seen in the 1920s again. Until Glass-Steagall was repealed and it happened once again in the 2000s.

Everyone got much poorer, except for investment bankers, many of whom walked away with hundreds of millions in bonuses.



And you'll retort that Clinton signed it, thus somehow proving was the Dems' fault after all! Which ignores the central problem that three branches of government had been subordinated to support what William K Black calls a "control fraud."


Let's be clear, minorities and the poor did not borrow anywhere near enough money to cause the housing crisis. It is orders of magnitude difference between what they could have borrowed in aggregate and what money either grew in terms of lending rates (M2-M3), never mind what money disappeared in the aftermath.

This pointing to the darkies as an explanation for the housing crisis is just plain offensive.

David Brin said...

Jack, what unreasonable "solutions" are you talking about? I recall seeing no consensus decisions having emerged from "the left".

What is this "left" you are talking about? Can you tell me who it is? Does it have a command central like Fox and Rupert Murdoch, with a vast movement parrotiung whatever he says, within hours? Hm... I must not have got the memo.

In fact, everything is on the tabel except one demand... Spend more and do a better job of RESEARCH into energy (of all kinds, though sustainables sure look sweet) and on efficiency. In other words... TWODA... Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.

You are making up stories in order to excuse the right's party line. "We admit we are horrible! But the left is just as bad or worse!" Except there is no solid "left" there are a couple of million "lefties" and 100 million american liberals who want to discuss pragmatic solutions and have nobody sane to talk to.

I repeat, if you picture "unrealistic solutions" please tell us which ones and show us that any consensus of all the "left" pushed it. You'd be fabulating.

The one consensus... the the "left" of Fox which means everybody sane, is just this. "Please SNAP OUT OF IT and accept that when 97% of the experts in a field warn of danger, the prudent thing to do is take them at their word WHILE pushing a wide range of new research PLUS sitting down to negotiate the BEST prudent TWODA measures that can most efficiently address the problem WHILE retaining a vibrant economy to pay for it all.

"Come sit and let's talk."

THAT is the position or the "left". And of the scientists. And your envisioning anything else is pure marching to Hannity's drum

David Brin said...

Closest thing to a "left headquarters" is The Daily Show... which has top republicans on as guests, hawing their books, roughly once a week or more I am happy to compare that to Fox.

Jonathan S. said...

Oh, and one other line, one whose source is rather ironic - that claim that Obama "created a debt commission and then threw their results in the trash."

Except that wasn't what happened.

What happened was that the committee came up with a report - which they themselves then threw out, at the behest of a faction within the committee. One of the leaders of that faction was one Rep. Paul Ryan.

Yes, the same Paul Ryan who gave you that line to parrot.

Reality is certainly inconvenient sometimes, isn't it?

Tom Crowl said...

It may seem an odd connection but I'm not so sure there's not some link between the cognitive dissonance that's allowed the financial sector to become a cancer...

(we desperately wanted to believe the wizards of wall street really understood what they were doing)

And the popularity of elves, gnomes and princesses.

It's an habitual willingness to be fooled that's infected both parties and the electorate.

(once in a while its fun but as a lifestyle its not such a good choice)

I've got no great faith in the wisdom of the electorate... but don't think they're complete idiots either if given the chance.

And I've got even less faith in any small closed group making decisions for everybody.

That's why I'm convinced the political microtransaction is a necessity.

This isn't out of some 'kumbayah' belief in the perfect wisdom of the masses but rather arises out of a conviction that a better result will be achieved by allowing a more balanced input from those with "biases and self-interests" in conflict with those currently dominating the lobbying landscape.

Personally, I'm convinced the effort to 'remove' money from politics is unwise, dangerous and doomed to failure...

But that the true solution lies rather in both vastly expanding the capability of lobbying while simultaneously greatly reducing the cost of campaigning at every level.

Both are very doable.

And, paradoxically over time will reduce the influence of money and expand the capability of the electorate.

I'm ready to run the experiment!

Ian Gould said...

There are many examples of bad investing by government such as corn-based ethanol and Solyndra ($500M lost.) - Keith Cu

Last time I checked the Solyndra bankruptcy hadn't been resolved and none of the assets had been sold, so how do you know how much the loss is goign to be?

Ian Gould said...

"But the left proposes solutions that are unworkable and often fail simple arithmetic tests." - Jack

Would you care to give some examples?

As a former professional economist specializing in economic analysis of greenhouse abatement measures i'd be interestrd in your analysis.

Mike Frank said...

Truth in advertising, I am a registered Democrat.

Regarding Nancy Pelosi.

I was highly disappointed by her term as Speaker of the House. It seemed that she (and Harry Reid) did not know how to govern. Indeed it might be said that she spent a large percentage of her time enjoying the trappings of power without actually using it, except to help her friends and herself.

Did you see the 60 minutes piece where she is confronted with the profits she made after being involved in insider trading (then legal for members of Congress). Her response was basically that she didn't see anything wrong with what she had done. If that wasn't as a clear an example of the corrupt nature of most in Congressional power I don't know what is.

The more things change, etc...

Ian Gould said...

"It was an article in Forbes that claimed that GM would go bankrupt again."

Yes based on a single article which gave a poor rating to a single GM model - and omitted the fact that the GM model in question was the hybrid version because the standard IC version of the model hadn't been released yet.

Guess what if you compare a hybrid head-on with a bunch of IC cars on the basis of upfront cost and performance (and ignoring the issue of fuel performance) the hybrid will come out worst. Just like if you compared four hybrids and an IC car from the same category on the basis of operating cost, the IC care would probably come last.

Also, amzingly enough, soem auto companies make one bad model and don;t go bankrupt.

reason said...

"I briefly looked at the link about which party generally does a better job with economic growth the analysis is too simplistic. Clinton had a Republican Congress to deal with."
Yes you must have looked very briefly at it, because he includes a link that deals with that.
"They pushed him towards a balanced budget and other stuff related to economic growth. At the time, people talked about Clinton was useless because he was mostly just signing the legislation Newt gave him."

Yeah sure they pushed him to raise taxes. Pull the other one.

Ian Gould said...

Not sure if this link will work or not.


Patricia Mathews said...

Your column reminded me of two things: that John Michael Greer pointed out months ago that the scientific method is the greatest advance in How To Think since Greek Logic was invented 2500 years ago; and that ~2500 years ago, a hard-right Athenian government voted to ban the teaching of Logic. The more things change....

Jason said...


I've often thought that the problem with the left is that the left seems willing to consider other people's opinions as potentially valid.

Example: "Hrm, most scientists agree that human activity is causing global warming. I wonder if that could be true? Let me investigate to see if there's any 'there' there...isn't that what science is? A theory should be testable, repeatable, and understandable...

"The scientists have models that show the difference between solar warming and human caused global warming. One difference is that the Washington state area would be COOLING if the global warming is caused by humans, but it would be warming if it were caused by solar activity. Guess what? Washington state is cooling. INteresting."

It's much easier to say "Fox News says it's not true, and I trust them more than scientists, so harrumph!" No research required, and it matches with your previous thoughts. Done.

So on the one hand you have folks willing to lie (repeatedly, at national conventions, repeating lies that have been proven false!) and on the other hand you have people who are willing to try to see the other person's point of view--a' la your first comment with John Stewart having opposing points of view--doesn't it seem inevitable that we end up with what we have today?

Jack said...

"Would you care to give some examples?

As a former professional economist specializing in economic analysis of greenhouse abatement measures i'd be interestrd in your analysis"

How many do you want?

1. the organic movement that will argue that we can feed the whole world and turn the earth into one giant organic farm. even as they predict disaster from global warming.
2 the anti coal folks that refuse to listen to any role for coal.Not clean coal, not swapping out old inefficient plants for new ones(a 50% reduction in carbon) The repeatedly isist that renewables can replace all of the energy we currently get from coal.I live a 1/2 mile from one of the main rail lines that haul coal from wyoming to the midwest. I see it everyday, we use a lot of coal.
3 the anti nuke folks.
4 the anti GMO folks,How do we adjust to a rapidly changing climate without genetic engineering?

Jack said...

David two points
First I don't play with straw, too flamable.

Second Stewart is mildly left but for the most part he is mainstream center with a touch of libertarian.

go back and read for content and you will se I was not addressing any one in the center.

Ian Gould said...

Jack, so basically you're seizing on loopy fringe movements to discredit the whoel idea of GHG abatement?

Jack said...

Please prove that last statement or don't put words in my mouth

btw you just proved my original point, one post and you are name calling

Jack said...

BTW, when it comes to advocacy on global warming issues that list of folks are rather main stream with large followings.

Acacia H. said...

In the wake of the latest asteroid or cometary impact on Jupiter scientists will be forced to reclassify Jupiter. It's obviously not a planet as it's still being impacted by planetary debris, showing it has not cleared out its orbital path. At this rate, I suspect soon the Solar System will have no planets in it at all. ;)

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

In your response to KeithCu (and welcome, sir) you seem to me to be doing a bit of arm waving too. He makes some points worthy of discussion. In particular it is never polite to say "you actually believe no such thing at all". You are not privy to what is really going on in crania other than thine own.

But I was already considering a break in what you recently described as my "reticence".

Regards the four fiscal sins you lay at the doorstep of Pres. Bush.

-Two wars. Really it should be 3.5 wars. Gulf Wars I and II, Afghanistan and the ongoing shadow war with Iran. In that time the weapons of war have changed so much. We have gone from Stuka to Stuxnet (supposedly the A10 Warthog was based on a German design..).

I have chided you in the past for trying to be Contrary Turtledove, war is the least predictable of human undertakings. Gulf I was paid for but inconclusive. Gulf II a fiscal disaster that seems to have done us no good. (Iraqis and Kuwatis probably see it different). Afghanistan, well your support early on has morphed to a retrospective "should have fought it Dem style". Maybe. Although tidings out of North Africa today show the peril of fighting via cruise missle and dodgy allies...The enemy sometimes has a say in things unless you are prepared to go Full Roman Empire on countries, and that does not burnish your image in the world.

And the oh so clever tactics of banking strategies and viral sabotage? Started under GWB. Very cost effective. Outcome...unclear.

-Medicare Part D. My gracious. If only we had a Dem in the White House we would hear no nonsense about pandering to big pharma with a new entitlement program that has no plausible financial underpinnings! From that far right Huffypoo site:


Neither party has thus far "grown a pair" regards a rational health care system. Bush was too eager to go along with the D's who were avidly pushing this bennie.

-I concur, bipartisan blame for housing bubble. Recall that FannyMae was effectively a summer camp for D pols, and that attempts to reform things even a tad were shot down.

On the road, but intermittently around...


KeithCu said...

The center of the left is probably the NYT. It hasn't endorsed a Republican for president in 60+ years. Jon Stewart is just the court-jester. Fox News is a part of the right, and the left is almost everyone else. That is why Fox stands out so much.

In terms of how the left offers unrealistic environmental solutions, here is a video by Obama: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlTxGHn4sH4. This video is amazing not only because of Obama's certainty that causing electricity rates to skyrocket is a good goal, he doesn't even consider the economic costs, how this could push jobs offshore, how it will hurt poor Americans, etc.

We on the right agree there is a danger of global warming. However, the carbon credits solution is just a way to give more people exclusive control over rationing atoms, and making themselves rich along the way. It is just a tax. Taxing carbon doesn't exactly solve the problem of building technology to run a modern society. What Utopia will we get from cap and trade? I saw some testimony in the US Senate that the temperature savings from this policy would be .1C over 50 years. Obama talked a lot about cap and trade, but not the results! It will cause electricity rates to skyrocket, yet not change the earth's temperature. Lots of money spent for little result. It is sort of like the K-12 schools link I posted above, where Chicago celebrates a 60% graduation rate. That is what happens when a system is non-economic. Obama is also against nuclear which can provide cheap energy and decrease CO2. He says he wants an all of the above energy policy, but that is just a lie.

It is true that Paul Ryan voted against the debt commission's final result. But there was a lot in there he liked, as he had done a lot of the work to put it in there. He just didn't want to endorse it in total and thought it was missing important things. In any case, it was the President's debt commission. You focus on Paul Ryan's vote, and ignore that the commission was created by Obama. I knew that Obama had done a poor job with the debt commission long before Paul Ryan started mentioning it. They did their work years ago. The reality is that Obama doesn't know how to lead and get things done. Paul Ryan has done a great job coming up with plans that will get the economy going and prevent the debt crisis.

@Ian Gould:
If you don't like saying $500M lost, how about $500M spent on a bankrupt company? Solyndra is just one example, there is also Ener 1, Beacon Power, Abound Solar, Amonix Solar, Spectra Watt, Eastern energy, and others. All those companies had donated to the Obama campaign, BTW.

As for GM, that article gave many reasons for why GM could go bankrupt again.

The Republicans pushed Clinton towards pro-growth policies. Clinton takes credit but it was Newt's team who was doing the work. Furthermore, JFK might be a Republican compared to Obama. Here is a video from talking about tax cuts to stimulate the economy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEdXrfIMdiU Obama might be a great speaker, but he's never talked anything like that. So put JFK into the red column ;-)

Unknown said...

KeithCu wrote:

The Republicans pushed Clinton towards pro-growth policies. Clinton takes credit but it was Newt's team who was doing the work. Furthermore, JFK might be a Republican compared to Obama. ... So put JFK into the red column ;-)

Please look at this chart:


From this Wikipedia entry:


Look over to the tab around 1960. Tell us all, what was the income tax rate then and what did JFK reduce that tax rate down to? Now, look over to income tax rates today and perform the same comparison.

Please tell us how numbers from ~90% top tax rates down to ~70% are at all comparable to the current tax rate situation. Even if you believe Laffer's Curve, at rates this low 'diminishing returns' would suggest that additional tax cuts do not perform the stimulus you expect. As is shown by your comparison to JFK, conveniently ignoring the difference in tax rates between then and now. And I've yet to see a compelling argument in support of Laffer, and lots of real world results from Reagan onward that discredit the theory as bunk.

KeithCu said...

Here is a test to find out if you are influenced by the left or the right. If you believe Sarah Palin would have done a better job than Obama, then you are part of the Fox News right. Otherwise, you are a part of the left. You might not notice it as being the left position, because it is everywhere.

Unknown said...

And BTW, Keith, I notice you didn't respond to my comment calling you out for claiming that minorities are the primary cause of the housing crisis, by linking to an OPED with no facts to base that assertion upon.

The assertion is false at its face as there is no way so few borrowers could have had the claimed effect. I pointed to a range of article and sources to back up that point. But here is a study from the St. Louis Federal Reserve that directly counters this pernicious - and frankly racist scapegoating - claim:


Did Affordable Housing Legislation Contribute to the Subprime Securities Boom?


No. In this paper we use a regression discontinuity approach to investigate whether a§ordable housing policies ináuenced origination or a§ected prices of subprime mort- gages. We use merged loan-level data on non-prime securitized mortgages with individual- and neighborhood-level data for California and Florida. We Önd no evidence that lenders increased subprime originations or altered pricing around the discrete eligi- bility cuto§s for the Government Sponsored Enterprisesí(GSEs) a§ordable housing goals or the Community Reinvestment Act. Our results indicate that the extensive purchases of risky private-label mortgage-backed securities by the GSEs were not due to a§ordable housing mandates.


This report shows where the lending really did happen, by private unsecured lenders through the shadow banking market.


And you might want to read this, another debunking:


Unknown said...

Keith wrote:

Here is a test to find out if you are influenced by the left or the right. If you believe Sarah Palin would have done a better job than Obama, then you are part of the Fox News right. Otherwise, you are a part of the left. You might not notice it as being the left position, because it is everywhere.

Now we have descended from debating factual matters to outright trolling.

Ian Gould said...

"We on the right agree there is a danger of global warming. "

You do?

Well that'a a relief after all those polls showing a margin of Republican voters don't.

So who exactly is it that keeps turnign out to Viscount Monckton's speeches abotu how global warming is part of an international conspriacy to exterminate 90% of the world's population and subjugate the survivors to a socialist dictatorship?

Ed Seedhouse said...

David may I suggest you look into the heterodox version of economics known as "Modern Monetary Theory" which attempts to explain how the economy of a nation with a fiat currency (such as the USA)actually works. I suggest you start at the site http://neweconomicperspectives.org/p/modern-monetary-theory-primer.html

I believe it offers a much more credible economic theory than "neoliberal: economics as it is based on how our monetary and economic system actually observable work, as opposed the the myths we are taught about how they works.

For example, given the fact that the USA runs a fiat currency, and the definition of the GDP, MMT shows mathematically that if both the private and external sectors are in surplus the government sector must, by mathematical identity, be in deficit by the exact same total amount.

These are not socialists, they are capitalists, if of the "progressive" side.

I know you are busy, but I recommend you take a look and see if you can find any obvious logical flaws. I have read their theories carefully and can not find any contradictions, but I would be happy to have them pointed out if they exist.

Ian Gould said...

"Here is a test to find out if you are influenced by the left or the right. If you believe Sarah Palin would have done a better job than Obama, then you are part of the Fox News right. Otherwise, you are a part of the left. You might not notice it as being the left position, because it is everywhere."

So "Fox News Right" and "Ther Left" are the only two options?

The world divides into those two camps?

Ian Gould said...

The Forbes article claiming GM's about to go bankrupt again:


and the rebuttal:


The most striking thign abotu this little sideshow is how many of the American right accept this poorly reasoned bit of speculation as rock-solid fact - and are absolutely delighted at the prospect.

Anything to get trid of That Man.

David Brin said...

Jack you are floundering around. If you call Jon Stewart a quasi libertarian centrist... which happens also to describe me and most of the folks here (though we have republicans and more left-leaning dems as well)... then PARSE IT OUT! Stewart's audience polls extremely democratic, urban, educated, pro-science and pro-Obama. YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.

If Stewart and his audience are mainstream democrats then mainstream democrats are not the "leftists" that you rail against. Yes, genuine leftists exist! But they are an insipid, pallid, easily discounted pack of a couple of million flakes.

Meanwhile... the insane right consists of... almost all Fox viewers, almost the entire Republican Party, top to bottom in the most tightly disciplined partisan force the nation has ever seen, refusing ever ever ever to negotiate... focused solely upon culture war.

David Brin said...

Jack actually stayed instead of doing a drive-by, so he deserves courteous answers.

1. the organic movement
2. anti coal radicals
3. Anti nuke fols
4. Anti GMO.....

Now Jack, show me how ANY of the examples that you gave have anything whatsoever to do with the positions of mainstream liberals - who constitute the vast majority of the democratic party? Or indeed, most mainstream democratic officials?

You are cherry-picking "leftist" positions from among the lefty fringe. A tactic that is rife on Fox. Hannity claims "all liberals believe" -- and then snidely recites some extreme language from some minor bunch of campus dopes. There are one hundred million liberals in America who would punch Sean Hannity in the mouth for the things that he claims THEY "believe."

Indeed, Obama has done more for the revival of the nuclear industry than the FIVE presidents before him, combined.

Having said that, there certainly are questions about GMO and supporters of coal are the ones with a burden of proof, NOT critics of that fuel which unambiguously is the worst pollution source on the planet. Still, the issue is willingness to negotiate. And Fox-zoids are not. Ever.

David Brin said...

Tacitus I never criticized Gulf War #1 for having been expensive. Only for being huge, garish and a little boy's notion of "war" instead of an adult's version of "what's the minimum necessary to do the job." Indeed, the fact that the Saudis paid for that war made them feel entitled to order Bush Sr. to stop too soon, explicitly betray the promise he had made (in our names) to the Shiites, leaving them to death and hell for 12 years and turning them into future allies of Iran.

I never claimed that Libya would be all roses and wonders! It is just clear that we accomplished ALL of the same war aims and ends in Libya and Iraq, only the Dem's approach to war costs ONE_THOUSANDTH as much in time, money and american lives. Opps, there is no applicable ratio in the last category. If you catch my meaning. It is infinite.

These metrics of efficiency should matter to you! They should be convincing.

So there's bad stuff in Libya now? BFD... Obama did not PROMISE us a democratic-westernized Libya, which Bush explicitly and repeatedly did in Iraq and Afgh, "nation building" my ass. Obama promised an incremental improvement, achieved quickly and cheaply.

"Bush was too eager to go along with the D's who were avidly pushing this bennie."

DIsingenuous! Medicare D passed when the GOP owned and operated ALL branches of government and never consulted the opposition about anything whatsoever, at any level and in any way. And note this. There sure IS a difference.

You may not like how the dems pay for the shit they pass. But they do install payment systems. medicare Part D on the other hand... you would SHRUG IT OFF? It is absolute proof that the supposedly responsible GOP has never planned to be fiscally responsible. Ever. They do not give a rats ass.

David Brin said...

KeithCu said: "We on the right agree there is a danger of global warming. However, the carbon credits solution is just a way to give more people exclusive control over rationing atoms, and making themselves rich along the way."

Sorry I must be rude. These are lies, starting with the first clause of that statement and moving on to the implied notion that you are the reasonable ones, opposing only a huge carbon boondoggle shoved at you by the monolithic left.

Outright lie. Carbon credits were among the proposals put on the table by a diversity of interests. There have been many and the right has consistently refused to come to the table, to sit down, to negotiate or offer solutions of their own. Your first clause is the biggest lie. The very same public relations firms that played obstruction on "cars don't cause smog" and later "tobacco isn't unhealthy"... the VERY same firms have been hired by the same interests to use the same tactics on climate change.

Were you sincere, you would be angry now over the Bushite obstruction of energy and efficiency research. Research! The diversion of research efforts into "hydrogen" and cornahol. The claims that the right wanted energy independence while thwarting it at every turn. You might be suspicious about how Murdoch's co-owners at the right's temple of worship are Saudi princes and coal barons.

Your definition of left and right conveniently places you at the center. Sorry, you are part of a cult.

Ian Gould said...

Carbon credits were, of course, first proposed by Ronald Coase, life-long Republican, member in good standing of "The Chicago School" and personal friend of Hayek and Freidman.

Acacia H. said...

Please note, I speak as having written numerous abstracts and having worked on multiple energy-related journals, both on the economic and scientific sides of the coin. If you read the journals, you will see a common agreement between the coal industry and the nuclear power industry: the economics of natural gas is what is killing those other industries. In short, it is far more expensive to build and maintain a nuclear power plant than a gas powered plant, and it is likewise less expensive to ship coal to China and switch power plants over to natural gas than to burn it here.

So what's killing the nuclear power industry? It's not liberals. It's not Obama. It's economics. And it's natural gas. Likewise for coal.

Seriously. What company is going to spend a lot of money and undergo a significant level of government control for nuclear power when it's far cheaper to use natural gas? Not any for-profit company that intends on making a profit, at least.

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

As I've pointed out before, building a nuclear power plant is a $1 billion + investment which you won't see a return on for a decade - assuming you've correctly predicted power demand a decade into the future.

A 100 MW gas powerplant can be operational in two years at a cost of around $50 million.

Tim H. said...

At least, methane is cleaner than coal, perhaps a small step towards a solution, and maybe we should offer to "frack"China, so they can cut their coal habit.

Ian Gould said...

A thought for all my American friends: as happens every four years, many of you are getting swept up in the partisan passions that accompany your Presidential elections.

Consider this: in 2008, in only one state (Wyoming) did Barack Obama get less than a thrid of the popular vote and in only one state (Hawaii) did John McCain get less than one third of the popular vote. (Washington DC also voted overwhelmingly for Obama.)

The Other Party are not a sinister faceless mass in another state, they're your neighbours and relatives; your co-workers; the person in line behind you at the supermarket.

For the most part, they are every bit as good and patriotic Americans as those on your side of the divide. The motives are as pure, their belief as genuine.

Unknown said...


China approves Rmb1tn infrastructure spend


What do you make of China's infrastructure and housing build-out policy?

Though several bridges have collapsed over the last few years, do you think substandard building practices due to corruption is significantly worse than say the substandard practices and corruption evident in Boston's Big Dig?

Do you think the 'empty cities' and housing overhang will ultimately be absorbed by nongmin peasants migrating away from subsistence farming to the cities as China industrializes and modernizes its agricultural practices?

Do you think the west has much to learn about BSB (Broad Sustainable Building) construction practices? See:

Chinese company plans to build world's tallest building in only 90 days


Jumper said...

Tonight I am having a hard time parsing the difference between an angry mob in Libya killing my countrymen and that branch of my own country's Republican party brownshirts.

Acacia H. said...

In the 2012 Presidential elections, my parents, and at least three of my best friends are voting Republican. Some do so because of the Republican policy on gun control and Obama having been "behind" Operation Fast and Furious. Some do so because they feel Republicans are better (even now) than Democrats. Some I have no idea why they're voting Republican.

I do not think any the less of them for who they are voting for. I might try to convince them that global warming is real (unsuccessfully), I may try to convince them that Democrats as a whole no longer are interested in gun control. I may even have convinced some that the Republicans are hopelessly corrupt at this point. But despite the fact they are still voting Republican (as am I! On the state level, because Massachusetts Republicans are liberal Democrats elsewhere in the country, and because there should be some balance in the Massachusetts legislature) I still consider them to be dear friends or in the case of my parents, family. It's not The Other.

I suspect a lot of people voting for Obama feel much the way I do about Republican voters. We don't dislike them (well, except for the Tea Party fanatics who refuse to even consider that they are driving their party into suicide).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Ian I would normally agree with you. But the 1/3 of AMericans who mindlessly recite Fox catechisms have seceded and declared war on us. They did so a decade ago. Now they threaten to drag us all down.

Believe me, I would love to end both gerrymandering and winner-takes all into he Electoral College. Both of which disenfranchise huge minorities and turn majority rule into roughshod oppression. In California, where two democrats are opposing each other in a strongly liberal district, both are now holding open meetings for republicans to speak and be heard. Because Californians ended gerrymandering.

JMG you click onto the economy ruiner for next year. China has such huge stocks of excess inventory that they will flood the world market next year, wrecking jobs and deflating costs.

Re the Libya thing, Obama should say "Hide but we will hunt and kill you
" to the murderers... and to the American loonies who hijack our foreign policy by burning Korans... "We will protect you, but we aren't behooved to call you anything but what you are. A pack of jibbering assholes."

Robert, keep trying. And yes, I would be a republican in Massa. Heck I am one here! (By registration.) Still, give your relatives literature and links for Gary Johnson. Tell them if they send him money, you will too. If they vote for him, you will find matching votes for them in other "pure" states.

Ian Gould said...

JMG:China approves Rmb1tn infrastructure spend


What do you make of China's infrastructure and housing build-out policy?

Me: I first read that as “one billion RMB” and was wondering what the big deal was. But even $150 billion isn't that huge when its spread out over multiple years and largely represents a rebadging of projects already in the pipeline.

Having said that, even allowing for propaganda and overly-favorable official statistics, the Chinese government has proven to be remarkably effective at managing the overall economy. Much of the credit for that, of course, belongs to the Chinese people.

The obvious concern here is that China will follow the example of Japan and end up with a politically-connected construction industry that absorbs trillions of dollars of public funds to little real benefit. A positive sign here is that the Wen Jiabao seems aware of this risk and has spoken about the need to reduce the role of the four major state-owned banks.

JMG: Though several bridges have collapsed over the last few years, do you think substandard building practices due to corruption is significantly worse than say the substandard practices and corruption evident in Boston's Big Dig?

ME: I have yet to see any hard evidence that Chinese construction standards in general are any worse than in most other developing countries. When the Three Gorges Dam was being built, there were endless predictions of disaster. Now, it has been an environmental and social disaster but the engineering seems to have been pretty solid.

JMG: Do you think the 'empty cities' and housing overhang will ultimately be absorbed by nongmin peasants migrating away from subsistence farming to the cities as China industrializes and modernizes its agricultural practices?

ME: Short answer: probably.

Long answer: there has been a speculative bubble in Chinese property and there's an oversupply of housing and office buildings at current prices. That bubble's going to deflate in one of two ways: 1. a disorderly collapse in prices and a wave of bankruptcies; 2. housing prices stay at around the same level in nominal terms for several years as inflation reduces real prices and rising incomes make the projects more affordable. China's pulled off the second option a couple of times over the past 20 years so it'd be unwise to assume they can't do it again. Much of the oversupply is owned by local and provincial government so it's unlikely the national government will let them go bankrupt.

JMG: Do you think the west has much to learn about BSB (Broad Sustainable Building) construction practices? See:

Chinese company plans to build world's tallest building in only 90 days


Me: I've seen a number of articles about those new building techniques and, yes, I think they'll have a huge impact elsewhere.

I think the impact overseas will first be seen in the developing world: in Africa, the Middle East and India where there's a huge demand fro better housing.

The first impact we see in the west will most likely be a loss of export business for western construction and architecture firms. The question is whether those firms will respond by lifting their game or simply by comforting themselves that those damn Chinese never create anything new and just steal western technology.

Unknown said...

Actually David, I don't think so. I think China knows exactly what they're doing as far as their infrastructure and housing build-out goes.

Energy policy:

The Three Gorges Dam project may have been - legitimately - criticized in the early 1990s for displacement of peoples and destruction of historical sites, the fact that it now generates enough electricity to power all of Shanghai, and much of the coast should suggest strong forward planning skills. They're also building nuclear electricity generators, and have cornered the market on solar photovoltaic (meaning they get to cull the cream and sell the rest).

Those empty cities will be filled by migrating peasants in due course. Chinese middle and upper middle income earners have little opportunity to invest outside of the country, as citizens must request dispensation to exchange and transfer money (only the very wealthy and can bribe the money out), so Chinese buy 99 year property rights leases as an investment instead. Those properties will not sit empty. The Chinese still strongly value family structure. I expect properties to be used by extended family members, both to maintain the properties and to provide family support. And unlike the US housing crash, much of these units have been built with cash on hand and not debt.

Transportation policy:

They've not just been building roads, but also significant investment in heavy rail and electric powered light rail tram and subway systems. Given declining oil resources and global climate change due to carbon releases, this is an incredibly smart move.

I've made these points in debates before. I think that the bias of Chinese infrastructure failures and central-planning boondoggles seen in western media outlets like The Economist is wishful thinking that belies some serious successes of industrial planning.
This is why I asked Ian specific questions on the matter. He seems to largely agree, though I don't want to speak for him.

I'm curious what your response is to my comment in the prior thread on the Beijing Expedition. It's one of the last comments. I posted it there without realizing the discussion had moved over here.


David Brin said...

Excess inventaory of apartments won't affect our economy. It may cause a bubble collapse in China, but no loss of jobs here.

OTOH a vast oversupply of tennis shoes and buggy whips and electrical wire will get dumped onto the world market to be sold for whatever price the stuff can get. THAT will have effects and probably cause a trade war.

Alfred Differ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Still learning the ropes here. 8)

Regarding excess inventory... it happens with every bubble. The first round lenders and equity holders get taken down, but the fire sale buyers get quite a boon. I plan to be ready with as much cash as I can muster when their stuff goes on the market for pennies on the dollar.

We've known for some time that China is on the same path Japan took. They will probably go down the same way. The only question is how much infrastructure will they have in place for the poorest to use before that happens. Lots of people will take it hard when their bubble pops, but there are just too many of them for everyone else to stand by and not try to tap their markets again.

Regarding nuclear energy... I used to work for the CAISO and they put each of us through the class that taught how the industry actually works. Nuclear has two things going against it. The first is the obvious fact that it costs a lot of money due largely to legal hurdles. No sane company wants to take those on due to the difficulty of predicting the costs of the legal actions. The second is less obvious. Nuclear power is not very responsive to wholesale market fluctuations. It makes for an effective base load source, but can't change output quickly when needed. Generation sites that rely upon hydroelectric and natural gas can adjust quickly. The slow response time of nuclear means the generator can't make the money associated with wholesale price spikes.

Nuclear has one long term issue not associated with construction too. A plant has to remain operational for decades to earn the return that justifies building it. Ignoring the waste disposal issue for now, there is the issue of water supply. If the global climate really is changing (of course it is), then there is a water supply risk. What do you do if you build them on a river fed by a glacier or winter snow pack that vanishes over the years? If your nuclear plant uses a lot of water from a river, some day you'll be competing with other demands like food production and urban water supply. Who wins that legal battle?

BCRion said...

Nuclear needs a few things to be successful:

1) Realistic assessment of costs of all emissions, including carbon, need to be assessed. When you look at the cost of anthropogenic climate change, even the most dismal projections of nuclear accident frequencies and consequences pale in comparison. Natural gas buys us time, but is not a sustainable solution to climate change.

2) Development of agile nuclear technologies must happen. The industry is stuck in the 1950s mindset when it comes to designs -- bigger is better. Smaller reactors are not only feasible and proven (see the US navy and early history of nuclear research), but are easier to construct and maintain. The biggest hurdle is there are no licensed things in the US or elsewhere, and no motives to pursue them because of cheap natural gas (see last point).

3) Entirely manmade legal hurdles need to be reformed to be more in line with other energy technologies, or the other way around I suppose. Either way this drives up the costs of borrowing money relative to other technologies. This makes sense because while the risks with nuclear are different, they are not uniquely large in terms of real impact on life or environment.

Note that two of these are purely political and legal hurdles, and the other is mostly political as the technical work should not be overly difficult. Unfortunately, policy problems tend to be the most difficult to solve.

Ian Gould said...

"Nuclear power is not very responsive to wholesale market fluctuations. It makes for an effective base load source, but can't change output quickly when needed. Generation sites that rely upon hydroelectric and natural gas can adjust quickly. The slow response time of nuclear means the generator can't make the money associated with wholesale price spikes."

France has major overcapacity in its electricity generation sector precisely because its nuclear reactors can't ramp up output quicky to respond to peak demand.

So they have a bunch of reactors that are surplus to demand except for 2-3 hours per day.

The French can sell the excess power to their neighbours but obviously that's not a strategy everybody can follow.

I'm reptty much a nuclear power agnostic. I support the continued use of nuclear power but I doubt that the industry could ramp up output at the rate that would be required to signifcantly reduce fossil fuel use.

Ian Gould said...

To expand on Maynard's comments: a great deal of china's infrastructure spend and other government policy is intended to reduce Chinas's dependence on exports.

An obvious example is the poverty reduction program and the new national health insurance program, both of which are intended to reduce China's hige avings rate and convincing Chinese citizens they can consuem more.

Unknown said...

Kudos to the Charles Dharapak, the photographer for perhaps the most candid photo of Mitt Romney ever taken. Really, everyone should see it. Please, click the link and view. Take the whole image in. That is who this man is. Judge and vote accordingly.


Ian Gould said...

The context of that picture is worth noting too: that shit-eating grin is captured just seconds after Mitt was addressing the issue of the american diplomats murdered in Libya.

Marino said...

dear dr. Brin, you wrote:

"OTOH a vast oversupply of tennis shoes and buggy whips and electrical wire will get dumped onto the world market to be sold for whatever price the stuff can get. THAT will have effects and probably cause a trade war."

as a proof of the inherent defects of GAR... but many Chinese factories are contractors for US or Euro firms and brands operating in free markets, so unless Apple got wrong in its market forecasts, Foxconn didn't build too many iPads. And probably the cheapest low end consumer goods made in PRC wouldn't compete with higher end ones, as buyers can't afford the latter. Again, just IMHO...

Acacia H. said...

Unless of course they dump that excess inventory on their own market. After all, they still need lots of copper wire... and probably could use shoes and the like too. Don't forget, they're busy turning their own people into their consumer base.

Of course, the big problem is this: China has dozens of automobile manufacturers. The Chinese refuse to buy cars that aren't made in part by foreign companies. They see "Made in China" as meaning "piece of crap" and thus scrimp and save for a European or American car made in China. Seeing how many people the Chinese automotive industry hires, when these local companies start going belly up in a couple of years, you're going to see unemployment spiking in China.

Rob H.

Unknown said...

Yeah. I just figured that viewers would catch the context from Dharapak's caption.

As a Massachusetts resident and property owner I 'enjoyed' living under his governorship. Since Bill Weld left the seat for an ambassadorship under Clinton, only to get shafted in the vote by his own party, we had a string of bad Republican governors. Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and then Romney. All of whom cravenly used the office as a stepping stone rather than to govern.

Can't say I much like Devall Patrick's performance over his first term, but at least he hasn't abused the office as a stepping stone for personal gain.

(I'm currently living in Perth, WA, but am still a resident of MA)

Unknown said...

Also, I should say that Bill Weld was a fabulous governor.

Paul451 said...

"It is true that Paul Ryan voted against the debt commission's final result. But there was a lot in there he liked, as he had done a lot of the work to put it in there. He just didn't want to endorse it in total and thought it was missing important things. In any case, it was the President's debt commission. You focus on Paul Ryan's vote, and ignore that the commission was created by Obama."

So just based on your own comment, Obama created a group to try to come up with a bipartisan solution to debt. And even though Paul Ryan got most of what he wanted included, because he didn't get his own way entirely he threw a tantrum and voted against it?

And your conclusion from that is that Ryan is a great guy and Obama is a dick?

"how about $500M spent on a bankrupt company?"

I think Ian's point was that you don't know how much of a loan guarantee will be needed until you know how much the assets are worth.

"Solyndra is just one example, there is also Ener 1, Beacon Power, Abound Solar, Amonix Solar, Spectra Watt, Eastern energy,"

Don't forget Konarka Technologies and others. Supported by Massachusetts state government's energy fund... including under Romney's administration. Because stimulating infant industries is the job of government.

Paul451 said...

[From the last of the last thread]

"in the 1440s and 1450s. [...] It might well have been the European powers colonized first instead. China certainly had the raw transport and firepower advantage at the time. [...] Had the Ming Emperor known, Europe would remain a colony of China today."

No, Europe was too good at fighting. Having recently fought each other, the Vikings, the Turks, the rest of Arabia, and anyone else who "thought they were hard enough". China had a technological advantage, but Europe had the recent battle experience and a willingness to adopt new technology. If the Mandarins were already worried about the cost of merely sailing the Expedition fleet, they certainly wouldn't have wanted the cost of a war of occupation that would not have won enough treasure to come close to break even. Even if they had tried, not realising the difficulties, they wouldn't have sustained the cost for long.

Plus that's precisely when Europe was coming into ascendancy, as China was stagnating. (Like Japan picking a fight with the US in WWII, while Japan was at peak economic output and the US was still economically depressed. As the US came "on line", Japan was swamped. And the reverse happened (technologically) in the '70s. Reversed again in the '90s.)

No, the mistake was not in not conquering Europe, it was in completely turning their back - at a time when Europe was about to leap forward. Instead of soldiers, or traders, they should have sent scholars to Europe and Arabia. (And India. And the Americas later.)

[Scenario for Harry Turtledove. What-if the Chinese had colonised the West Coast of Nth America as Europe colonised the East.]

Paul451 said...

Speaking of China...

Re: China as New Japan.

The difference between China and Japan is that China effectively has entire other developing nations within itself. As one region reaches the growth plateau that all developed nations seem to reach, industry moves further inland to areas with cheaper labour, instead of moving to other actual nations. This allows the developed areas to transition to the next phase, without the stagnation that generally hit other newly developed countries.

David Brin said...

Re romney's SEGrin:

"They were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based on the embassy statement and now it’s just completely blown up," said a very senior Republican foreign policy hand, who called the statement an "utter disaster" and a "Lehman moment" — a parallel to the moment when John McCain, amid the 2008 financial crisis, failed to come across as a steady leader.

It was the second time Romney has been burned by an early statement on a complex crisis: Romney denounced the Obama Administration's handling of a Chinese dissident's escape just as the Administration negotiated behind the scenes for his departure from the country.

Alfred Differ said...

The French actually give away the electricity often enough to matter. They have a significant oversupply from nuclear. It gets used to pump water uphill at hydroelectric sites further north last time I checked.

There is no doubt the nuclear industry could do with a few iterations of try/fail/try again from engineers bent on improving things. Convincing the public to go along with this is the hard part.

Alfred Differ said...

The Chinese have tried for centuries to develop/exploit the interior. It is a difficult and expensive thing to do. Rivers and ports enable the cheapest transportation method possible and this has lead them to be an export oriented economy. They can't ship inland as easily, thus wealth cannot move inland easily.

I appears they are trying to deal with some of that by spending the large sums necessary, but it might take awhile for the wealth to move. Even with decent roads, it is easier to export. Geography is a pain sometimes.

I suspect they won't ever develop the interior anymore than we here in the US will develop our large deserts. China is effectively an island surrounded by water on one side and hostile terrain on all others. I suspect as the wealth of the island grows, the people in the interior will just move. That is their traditional solution.

Acacia H. said...

I must say, I think that picture might be a key moment should enough people try to exploit it. Nor is it easy to brush off by saying it was a different event - you can see the somber look on everyone else's face... and the smug smirk on Romney as he thinks "I've got you now, Obama."

Who knows. It might even win a Pulitzer, if the news media gets off their collective asses and actually does their jobs to pursue this. Sadly, I don't know if there will be time now - the Republican machine is already shifting course to back Romney on this, and additional protests at other embassies will only add fuel to the fire that Obama is inept when it comes to "coddling" the Muslims.

But that picture... that is damning evidence. That shows that Romney does not care about other people. You have a statesman who died while doing his job... who risked his life for democracy... and Romney sees it not as a tragic moment but as an opportunity to win. That picture dehumanizes him. And that picture could easily lead to Romney losing what little voter approval he has already.

After all, if you have a smug snake grinning because a diplomat died during a riot, then does that suggest he'll even consider the lives of soldiers he puts in harm's way? Or will he just pile them into the meatgrinder of Iran in the Next Republican War?

Rob H.

sociotard said...

I'm not sure it is so very damning. I remember Clinton getting not-much flack for smiling at a funeral, then acting weepy when he spotted the camera.


Indeed, the only people who cared about it were the ranty-right-wing types who put up that web page. I suspect that only ranty-left-wing types will care about Romney's smirk.

Rob said...

So, here's a use for nuclear plants, then, and given enough retrofitting could even be adapted from retiring Naval ships...:

Utilizing pipelines and a nuclear reactor, evaporate seawater and pump it to arid locations (+- 30 degrees latitude, for example...) slightly uphill and inland from the reactors. Use the water to hydrate people. Use their grey water waste to hydrate crops.

Might even be a way to repurpose oil pipelines that lead to exhausted oilfields, maybe?

Paul451 said...

Re: Libya and Romney.

All said, I am disappointed by one aspect of the Obama reaction. The refusal to "own" the Tweets at the centre of the pretend scandal.

After all, the Romney-rant is based on a (grotesquely dishonest) twisting of people actually showing amazing amounts of grace... and defiance. That's something that should be praised by Obama, "this is what we do, this is America", not "this wasn't an official statement".

Same thing with the forced resignation of the Ag.Sec for eloquently explaining her path to tolerance and understanding, because of a similar "misinterpretation" by the Foxites. Instead of praising the speech, thus changing the tone of the argument, they ran from it, thus agreeing with the Fox distortion.

It would be nice if the Obama administration showed as much faith in the people who voted for him, as they showed him.

Paul451 said...

Alfred Differ,
A bit part of China's infrastructure development is precisely to improve transport to the interior. And many of the "surplus" cities are further inland.

Alfred Differ said...


Many nuclear power uses have been considered. Your one fits into the desalinization category. You aren't in the energy industry at that point, though, so I won't pretend to know enough to say more than... it won't matter until the cost of water gets really high. When it does, and it will in many places, it might make more sense for people to move to the water instead. Urban populations can have a smaller footprint on the world and that might translate to money saved.


That makes sense. That is what we've done in the US too. We don't have any rivers connecting the east and west coast, but we do have our highways. If memory serves, our interstate road system has proven to be the most expensive thing we have EVER done with public money.

I hope they have a good water plan for those inland surplus cities. Desalinating and piping water could get pretty expensive too. 8)

sociotard said...

And hey, didn't somebody once suggest using a nuclear power plant to pump air into an open ended inflatable tube to take balloons to orbit?


Ian Gould said...

Alfred: There is no doubt the nuclear industry could do with a few iterations of try/fail/try again from engineers bent on improving things. Convincing the public to go along with this is the hard part.

The other problem with that when we're discussing global warming is the timeframe.

Let's say someone builds a prototype Rubbiatron, traveling wave reactor or Thorium reactor starting tomorrow.

It's likely to be a 20-50 Megawatt proof of concept reactor and its likely that bulding it and testing it will take 5-10 years.

Then you build the first full-scale plant - which means goign throguh the fulllicensing process with a completely new design,

Investors are likely going to want to see that first plant at least mostly completed before committing to more plants. So that's another 10 years or so.

Then if, say, 10 reactors are commissioned based on that first operating plant. THey'll take another 5-10 years.

So realistically, a genuinely novel reactor design would take 20+ years before it even started to make a significant contribution to the world's energy mix.

The only exception I can see to that is the designs for really small modular reactors. With them you might collapse the tiemframe down to 10-15 years,

Ian Gould said...

Re: China's interior.

Afred you seem to be thinking about the extreme west of China - Xinjiang, Ningxia, Tibet.

When people talk about China developing the interior they're mostly talking about the Yangtse Basin - which has been one of the main centres of Chinese civilization for millenia. (And to a lesser extent to provinces upriver from hong Kong like Yennan.)

It isn't a matter of moving people and water to the deserts, it's a matter of moving jobs, infrastccuture and education to the hundreds of millions of peoplr who already live in provinces like Sichuan and Hubei.

KeithCu said...

Here is an article and book which attempts to debunk the case that the Democrats are the pro-science party:


Ian Gould said...

Keith, that article gives exactly ONE example of Democrats getting a scientific issue wrong.

You might also want to note that Michelle Bachmann tried to link HPV vaccination to retardation - and was supportecd in her claims by many on the far right.


And here's Ron Paul making similar claims:


David Brin said...

sociotard said... "And hey, didn't somebody once suggest using a nuclear power plant to pump air into an open ended inflatable tube to take balloons to orbit?"

Even better. Pump water to huge lakes along the slopes of Chimbarozo or Mt. Kenya. Then release the water into fast turbines to drive a super accelerator gun-to-orbit laid along the mountain's western slope.

Keithcu cannot be blamed. His cult believes that assertions always trump facts. There was a time (Goldwater-Bucjkley) when this was not the case. Today, you cannot get into a slug fest. You can array twenty facts. They will put up ten assertions and declare "Even!"

What you can point to is the plain uber-fact that nearly all scientists have fled the GOP. Nearly all the generals and admirals. The doctors and economists and journalists and every other clade of intellect in American life... except wall street brokers and seminary graduates.

When you have driven off all the smart people (almost) you are left having to demean smart people. One can hope that road will eventually end the cult. But never underestimate.

David Brin said...


Ian Gould said...

This should be of interest to people here: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-open-source-revolution-science.html

Scientists are using 3D printers to design and make their own equipment. In the example given, a lab jack, a basic laborotry tool, that normally sells for around $1,000 was made for less than $1.

Where this will really have an impact, I think, is in the developing world.

Just blue-skying here but might we see surgeons printign instruments to get around the need for sterilization?

Jumper said...