Archive for January, 2017

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Just shut up and president (2)

January 28, 2017

David Harsyani writes a good column about how those who are supposed to serve the public prefer to lecture it instead. Get ’em, David!

Stop Telling Us How to Be Patriotic

Politicians have no business directing or defining patriotism, especially when their rhetoric sounds like 1950s-era Soviet sloganeering.

It was creepy when former President Barack Obama declared his first Inauguration Day as “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation” and called upon us to find “common purpose of remaking this nation for our new century.” And it’s creepy when President Donald Trump declares his Inauguration Day as “National Day of Patriotic Devotion,” one in which “a new national pride stirs the American soul and inspires the American heart.”

This kind of self-aggrandizement is what you see under cults of personality, not American republicanism. Far be it from me to lecture anyone on how to love their country, but if your devotion to America is contingent upon the party or the person in office, you’re probably not doing it quite like the Founding Fathers envisioned. […]

We just survived eight years of a messianic presidency with a finger-wagging, patriotism-appropriating administration lecturing us on how to be proper Americans. If you didn’t support the administration’s point of view, then-Vice President Joe Biden might accuse you of “betting against America.” […]

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Thanks, Obama

January 26, 2017

You know, I managed to avoid using this title for a post all through Obama’s term in office. But he finally roused me to use it.

In short, what gets collected in Utah doesn’t stay in Utah anymore.

Here’s Judge Andrew Napolitano writing at Reason about a recent order by former Attorney General Lynch. (My emphasis.)

President Obama’s Parting Shot at Personal Freedom
To make things more convenient for the government, the Obama administration makes it easier for agencies to spy on citizens.

On Jan. 3, outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch secretly signed an order directing the National Security Agency — America’s 60,000-person-strong domestic spying apparatus — to make available raw spying data to all other federal intelligence agencies, which then can pass it on to their counterparts in foreign countries and in the 50 states upon request. She did so, she claimed, for administrative convenience. Yet in doing this, she violated basic constitutional principles that were erected centuries ago to prevent just what she did.

Here is the back story. […]

This is the New York Times article Mr. Napolitano links in his post. (I assume it was the basis for his post. My emphasis again.)

N.S.A. Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications

WASHINGTON — In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people. […]

At the risk of saying this too many times, let me repeat that you should never expect privacy (or anonymity) when using electronic messaging – e-mail, text, voice, and (probably) internet chat as well.

That’s not just a projection based the news items above; it’s based on stories I’ve heard from people. Your past can come back to haunt you. You probably don’t want to happen when you’re up against an over-eager prosecutor.

Protect your privacy.

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Just shut up and president

January 23, 2017

My late mother-in-law (may she rest in peace) was a big fan of the British royal family. She even subscribed to magazines about them. ‘Struth. As you might imagine, the Windsor family was a topic we didn’t talk about often. But we got on extremely well otherwise.

Once, while touring Britain with my in-laws, we stopped for the night at a pretty cool old English inn called the Wheatsheaf hotel. I think it was this place in Lincolnshire but I’m not certain. (‘Wheatsheaf’ is the name of several inns and hotels in the UK.)

Since we’d arrived late in the day, we headed for the public room to find a cool glass of and to meet the locals. We succeeded. And before long, I heard MIL telling some of those locals that she thought the U.S. needed a royal family too. Sigh…

So I liked this post by Warren Meyer at Coyoteblog. Plus, it’s a three-fer: Meyer, Boudreaux, and Williamson all make good points on this topic.

A Modest Proposal: Let’s Adopt A Ceremonial Royal Family for the US To Safely Absorb People’s Apparent Need for Powerful, Charismatic Presidents

I have been watching the Crown as well as the new PBS Victoria series, and it got me to thinking. Wow, it sure does seem useful to have a single figurehead into which the public can pour all the sorts of adulation and voyeurism that they seem to crave. That way, the people get folks who can look great at parties and make heart-felt speeches and be charismatic and set fashion trends and sound empathetic and even scold us on minor things. All without giving up an ounce of liberty. The problem in the US is we use the Presidency today to fulfill this societal need, but in the process can’t help but imbue the office with more and more arbitrary power. Let’s split the two roles.

Update: Don Boudreaux writes:

A Trump presidency comes along with awful risks for Americans. Yet one very real silver-lining is that Trump’s over-the-top buffoonery and manic barking like a dog at every little thing that goes bump in his sight, along with his chronic inability even to appear to be thoughtful and philosophical and reflective and aware that he is not the center of the universe, might – just might – scrub off some of the ridiculous luster that has built up on on the U.S. Presidency over the course of the past 90 or so years. Let us hope.

He also links a good article from Kevin Williamson on the cult of the Presidency

In this vein, I recommend Gene Healey’s book The Cult of the Presidency. You can read it for free.


Here’s an interesting anecdote that I read recently: many Swiss people can’t tell you who their president is. It turns out that the Swiss president is simply the presiding member of the seven-member Swiss Federal Council.

Wouldn’t that be a nice change? A president who does the job in quiet anonymity? A servant of the people who doesn’t think of the job as director of a reality TV show?

Where’s Calvin Coolidge when you need him?

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The Uncertainty Monster

January 23, 2017

Robert Tracinski writes about climate change at The Federalist. (My emphasis below.)

This is the point that Judith Curry makes when writing about climate.

Why NYT Hid The Numbers For The ‘Hottest Year On Record’

When you read a science report claiming that 2016 was the hottest year on record, you might expect that you will get numbers. And you would be wrong.

They say that mathematics is the language of science, which is a way of saying that science is quantitative. It is moved forward by numbers and measurements, not just by qualitative observations. “It seems hot out” is not science. Giving a specific temperature, measured by a specific process at a specific time, compared to other systematically gathered measurements — that is science.

So when you read an article proclaiming that, for the third year in a row, last year was the hottest year on record, you might expect that right up front you will get numbers, measurements, and a statistical margin of error. You know, science stuff. Numbers. Quantities. Mathematics.

And you would be wrong.

I just got done combing through a New York Times report titled, “Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year.” The number of relevant numbers in this article is: zero.

We are not told what the average global temperature was, how much higher this is than last year’s record or any previous records, or what the margin of error is supposed to be on those measurements. Instead, we get stuff like this.

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016—trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.
Note to the New York Times: “trouncing” and “blown past” are phrases appropriate to sports reporting, not science reporting. Except that no sports reporter would dare write an article in which he never bothers to give you the score of the big game.

Yet that’s what passes for “science reporting” on the issue of global warming, where asking for numbers and margins of errors apparently makes you an enemy of science. Instead, it’s all qualitative and comparative descriptions. It’s science without numbers. […]

It’s almost like they’re hiding something. And that is indeed what we find. I finally tracked down an exception to this reporting trend: the UK newspaper The Independent gives us the relevant numbers.

They should have been in the first paragraph, but at least they’re in the third paragraph: “This puts 2016 only nominally ahead of 2015 by just 0.01C — within the 0.1C margin of error — but….” There’s stuff after the “but,” but it’s just somebody’s evaluation. Even this report can’t give us a straight fact and leave it alone.

For the benefit of science reporters and other people who are unfamiliar with the scientific method, let me point out that the margin of error for these measurements is plus or minus one tenth of a degree Celsius. The temperature difference that is supposedly being measured is one one-hundredth of a degree—one tenth the size of the margin of error. To go back to sports reporting, that’s like saying that the football is on the 10-yard line — give or take a hundred yards. […]

When I was learning lab technique, a lot of time was spent on the importance of margin of error because that’s the limit of what you can know. In fact, I had a professor who would take credit off when people carried more decimal places in their results than the margin of error would allow.

It was one reason he preferred slide rules to electronic calculators. (Yep, it’s been a few decades.) The people with slide rules would skip those gratuitous digits because of the extra work, but people with calculators wanted to keep those extra digits because they were “free”.

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The engineering is settled (2)

January 17, 2017

Here’s an article from Manhattan Contrarian about the problems of making renewable energy financially feasible.

Or as I put it last April, the Engineering Is Settled.

A Dose Of Renewable Energy Realism

In the campaign to jettison fossil fuels as the main source of our energy and replace them with so-called “renewables,” a notable feature is the lack of discussion of the costs and practicalities of trying to make intermittent sources like wind and solar work to run a 24/7/365 electricity grid. Is there any problem here that deserves consideration? In Tuesday’s post I noted that in my home state of New York we are about to try to replace our big Indian Point nuclear power plant with mostly wind-generated power. Actually, we already have wind turbines with approximately the same “capacity” as Indian Point, but unfortunately over the course of a full year they only generate about one-quarter as much electricity as Indian Point. Still, can’t that problem be solved just by buying four times as many wind turbines? It may be a little pricey, but is there any reason why that won’t work?

In a publication called Energy Post on January 10, prominent German economist Heiner Flassbeck has a piece that addresses this question. The headline is “The End of the Energiewende?” Of course the problem is that the wind turbines don’t just run steadily and predictably at one-quarter of capacity; rather, they swing wildly and unpredictably back and forth between generating at near 100% of capacity and generating almost nothing. The “almost nothing” mode can persist for days or even weeks. In Germany under a program called Energiewende (“energy transition”), in effect since 2010, they have been pushing to raise the percentage of energy they obtain from wind and solar, and have gotten the percent of their electricity supply from those sources all the way up to 31%. But Flassbeck now looks at what just occurred during the month of December 2016:

This winter could go down in history as the event that proved the German energy transition to be unsubstantiated and incapable of becoming a success story. Electricity from wind and solar generation has been catastrophically low for several weeks. December brought new declines. A persistent winter high-pressure system with dense fog throughout Central Europe has been sufficient to unmask the fairy tale of a successful energy transition….

Here is a chart from Flassbeck’s piece showing German electricity demand through the first half of the month of December, against the sources of the electricity that supplied that demand. Among the sources, solar, on-shore wind, and off-shore wind are broken out separately:

power-demand-germany-dec-2016

As you can see, at some times wind and solar sources supplied as much as half or more of the demand for electricity, but at other times they supplied almost nothing. Flassbeck: […]

I would dearly love to install solar panels and go off the grid. And I’ve been watching the prices and the expected equipment lifetimes for a couple of decades now to decide when it will make financial sense.

But the problem of storing the energy aside, there are periods of weather like our current one. Today was the sixth gloomy, sunless day in a row in Missouri. That’s not unusual in January or February in the center of the US; it’s more common than not, I believe.

On the other hand, if I still lived in Tucson I’d probably have done it by now. (Check your insolation.)

H.T. Jeff G

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When will these be people be investigated, convicted, and sentenced?

January 17, 2017

Here’s a pretty horrifying story in the State-Is-Not-Your-Friend category.

Some social workers in California presumably lied and falsified evidence about a case involving taking a mother’s children from her custody. What the article doesn’t say, unfortunately, is whether these people are being investigated for those crimes.

You really need to read the whole thing. (Emphasis in the original.)

Judges Reject Orange County’s Claim That Social Workers Didn’t Know Lying In Court Was Wrong

Using taxpayer funds, government officials in Orange County have spent the last 16 years arguing the most absurd legal proposition in the entire nation: How could social workers have known it was wrong to lie, falsify records and hide exculpatory evidence in 2000 so that a judge would forcibly take two young daughters from their mother for six-and-a-half years?

From the you-can’t-make-up-this-crap file, county officials are paying Lynberg & Watkins, a private Southern California law firm specializing in defending cops in excessive force lawsuits, untold sums to claim the social workers couldn’t have “clearly” known that dishonesty wasn’t acceptable in court and, as a back up, even if they did know, they should enjoy immunity for their misdeeds because they were government employees.

A panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week ruled on Orange County’s appeal of federal judge Josephine L. Staton’s refusal last year to grant immunity to the bureaucrats in Preslie Hardwick v. County of Orange, a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages. In short, judges Stephen S. Trott, John B. Owens and Michelle T. Friedland were not amused. They affirmed Staton’s decision.

But to grasp the ridiculousness of the government’s stance, read key, Oct. 7, 2016 exchanges between the panel and Pancy Lin, a partner at Lynberg & Watkins. […]

And pity the Orange County taxpayers who are paying attorneys to defend these people.

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A stand on principle

January 15, 2017

A law professor named Adam MacLeod writes about taking his camera-based traffic ticket to court. It’s an interesting read and not too long.

That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century

The traffic-camera ticket: like a parking ticket, it looks lawful enough. When they receive one, most people simply write the check. It seems like the sensible and law-abiding thing to do.

But this is not a parking ticket. In legal terms, it is not a proceeding in rem — against your car. It is a legal action against you personally. And before you pay the fine, you might want to hear my story.

My story is not legal advice. I offer it only to show how our ruling elites have corrupted the rule of law and to suggest why this matters for the American experiment in self-governance.

The Ticket

My story begins with a confession: I got a traffic-camera ticket. An affidavit signed by a Montgomery City police officer, it averred that I had committed a particular traffic violation on a certain date, at a certain time and location. It showed a photograph of one of our family vehicles. It charged me with a “civil violation” of “criminal law.”

I wasn’t driving the car. In fact, at the time I was in a faculty meeting at the law school where I teach. Thus, I decided to challenge this injustice on the principle of the thing.[…]

I wouldn’t take this as legal advice (as the author said). And I wouldn’t try it myself since I’m not a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer to fight one of these tickets is likely to be more expensive than simply paying the fine.

But there’s a lot to be said for standing on principal and holding municipal (and state) goverment’s feet to the fire.

H.T. Paul B

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