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Now here's where I agree with Doug Mataconis

Prince Charles: still a douchebag.[1]

LONDON (AFP) - Prince Charles compared the challenge of tackling climate change to the Allies' struggle in World War II during a speech to business leaders Tuesday.

Addressing representatives from firms including Barclays Bank, British Airways and Rolls-Royce at Saint James's Palace, Charles said that "we need to act very rapidly indeed" to avert environmental disaster.

"We can do it, just think what they did in the last war. Things that seemed impossible were achieved almost overnight," the heir to the throne added.

Because any effort you liken unto war (or declare its Moral Equivalent on) will yield awesome results. See also War On: Poverty, Drugs, Terror, Illiteracy, Pr0n, Rock'n'Roll, Energy Dependence, etc.

(Seriously, its like magic!)

And after all, lets be honest: who can deny that the 0.6C increase in the 20th century's average global temperature is almost exactly analogous to Guderian's panzer divisions rolling through France and the Low Countries? And lord knows, the best friend the environment has is strong government action. I'm convinced- conscription and planning now!

[h/t to Ezra's guest blogger]

[1] Yes I know he wants to be a tampon instead, but the truth is harsh.

Or maybe we could, you know, be courteous and nice

Ok, yeah, I get where he's coming from here, but sheesh, getting pissy about the Queen is so British Labourite- so the irony of getting pissy over it on American Revolutionary grounds ("we ain't them!!") makes my head spin.

Maybe its just me as a Virginian, but we kind of remember that we were founded by Englishmen (just take a look at pretty much every place, town, and city name in southeastern Virginia; our forebears were brave, but unoriginal) and having the Queen come over to celebrate our founding is just respectful and a nod to our roots. A howdy and a smile is good enough, but I think we're all secure enough in our superpowerdom that if someone wanted to show her respect in an archaic way, I think the Republic will survive somehow...

Май Дай ор Лойалтй Дай?

via Тхе Балко, the latest incarnation of a bad idea from 1921- Loyalty Day!

America was founded by patriots who risked their lives to bring freedom to our Nation. Today, our citizens are grateful for our Founding Fathers and confident in the principles that lead us forward. On Loyalty Day, we celebrate the blessings of freedom and remember our responsibility to continue our legacy of liberty.

Our Nation has never been united simply by blood, birth, or soil, but instead has always been united by the ideals that move us beyond our background and teach us what it means to be Americans. We believe deeply in freedom and self-government, values embodied in our cherished documents and defended by our troops over the course of generations. Our citizens hold the truths of our founding close to their hearts and demonstrate their loyalty in countless ways. We are inspired by the patriotic service of the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform with honor and decency. The military spouses and families who stand by their loved ones represent the best of the American spirit, and we are profoundly grateful for their sacrifice. Our country is strengthened by the millions of volunteers who show deep compassion toward their neighbors in need. All citizens can express their loyalty to the United States by flying the flag, participating in our democracy, and learning more about our country's grand story of courage and simple dream of dignity.

The Congress, by Public Law 85-529, as amended, has designated May 1 of each year as "Loyalty Day." This Loyalty Day, and throughout the year, I ask all Americans to join me in reaffirming our allegiance to our Nation.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2007, as Loyalty Day. I call upon the people of the United States to participate in this national observance and to display the flag of the United States on Loyalty Day as a symbol of pride in our Nation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Claims that I do not believe

Brad DeLong damns with faint praise:

Let me say that it is an out-and-out lie for Jonathan "Hyde" Chait to claim that Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's or Duncan Black's or Jane Hamsher's interest in "ideas and facts" is "purely instrumental," that the "netroots consider the notion of pursuing truth for its own sake nonsensical."

For we all know that you learn a hell of a lot more about facts and ideas relevant to, say, the Scooter Libby case from Jane Hamsher and her peers at FireDogLake than you can learn from Jonathan Chait and his peers at the New Republic. I can recommend that somebody interested in the Libby case read FireDogLake knowing that Jane Hamsher and her peers are giving it the straightest shot they can. I can't say that about the New Republic's opinions of Scooter Libby, can I?

We all know that you learn a hell of a lot more about facts and ideas relevant to economic and budget policy from reading Duncan Black at Atrios than you can learn from a New Republic that tells you that "Harvard University... one of the most left-wing institutions on the face of the earth... has endorsed George W. Bush's proposal for Social Security reform, and that the Clinton struggle to bring the deficit under control was a bland standby. I can recommend that someone interested in economic and budget policy read Atrios confident that Duncan Black is giving it the straightest shot he can. I can't say that about the New Republic's giving airtime to Greg Mankiw and Robert Samuelson, can I?

And we all know that you learn a great deal more ideas and facts about the Middle East from reading Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's Daily Kos than from reading the New Republic.

(emphasis added)
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Jane "Rape Gurney Joe" Hamsher, Duncan "Wanker" Black, and Markos "Fvck 'em" Moulitsas are giving it the straightest shot that they can.

Dang, that's harsh. What'd they do to Brad, I wonder?

Wisdom from the Man in Black

Nick Gillespie on Hitchens and pissy evangelical Atheists:

I'm a confirmed "apatheist" who can't really get riled up one way or another about issues of faith (issues of religiously or ideologically fueled violence and inhumanity are very different matters).

I think that religion can be a force for great good; if nothing else, the Baptist thinker Roger Williams is one of the great architects of the secular state, which is something really great. And there seems to me little question that while religious fanatics are clearly a serious global problem, most of the great state evils (at least in the 20th century) sprung from ideologies that were avowedly secular. So I think there might well be a root-level problem here--about all attempts to constrain individuals via coercive power--that's going unaddressed.

It's not the forms, it's the outcome, it's the fanaticism, it's the will to power that's driving the evils of the world, not whether or not someone is 'religious'.

Exit and Voice

Two million French can't be wrong, right?

All of this is, of course, precisely what previous generations of European politicians have feared. For the past decade, French, German and other European leaders have tried to unify European tax laws and regulations, the better to "even out the playing field" -- or (depending on your point of view) to make life equally difficult everywhere. The emigration patterns of the past decade -- and the past five years in particular -- prove that that effort has failed. Sarkozy's election campaign, if successful, might put the final nail in the coffin.

The political and economic consequences of this new mobility could be quite profound. Countries such as Poland and France may soon be forced to scrap those regulations and taxes that hamper employment, however much the French unions and the Polish bureaucracy want to keep them: If they don't, their young people won't come home. Leaders in those countries may also have to alter their rhetoric. Sarkozy's Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, now uses words such as "entrepreneurship" at least some of the time, too.

(yeah yeah, the Cato guy essentially made the same quote, but its the money graf as the kids say)

It's also apropos of the recent Will Wilkinson post where he totally pwns one of Ezra Klein's cobloggers on the subject of whether or not France is 'just fine, thanks', whereby a quote Will's quote of Edmund Phelps:

Why does it suck so bad there “compared to the U.S. and a few other countries that share the U.S’s characteristics?”

In my thesis, the Continental economies’ root problem is a dearth of economic dynamism–loosely, the rate of commercially successful innovation. [...]

Further, I argue that the cause of that dearth of dynamism lies in the sort of “economic model” found in most, if not all, of the Continental countries. A country’s economic model determines its economic dynamism. The dynamism that the economic model possesses is in turn a crucial determinant of the country’s economic performance: Where there is more entrepreneurial activity–and thus more innovation, as well as all the financial and managerial activity it leads to– there are more jobs to fill, and those added jobs are relatively engaging and fulfilling. Participation rises accordingly and productivity climbs to a higher path. Thus I see the sort of economic model operating in the Continental countries to be a major cause– perhaps the largest cause–of their lackluster performance characteristics.

Sparing you further recursion of other people's posts and points, I think it bears remarking that despite the fact that 2 million French have left for bigger and more dynamic things, those remaining in La France happen to be replacing them at a decent clip (for Europeans, anyway)- so I wonder if the anecdote Anne's seeing here is simply the latest iteration of a trend that's been going on for roughly 3 centuries now- the dynamic folk of Europe *and* their misfits leave (coming to the US or anglosphere), contributing to and amplifying the dynamism of their new homes, while those remaining make the old country ever more of what drove the others out in the first place, in which case the effort to harmonize the crappiness everywhere won't work, and America and Europe's civic cultures will continue to diverge as there's self segregation of dynamists and stasists. Inwhich case Anne's conclusion will probably not come to pass, so long as the conservative types stay at home and the liberals all leave...

Reefer Madness?

A new study in Britain shows why, for a fringe of tokers, the usual cliched paranoia becomes/leads to actual schizophrenia.

For what its worth, if it were legal, my money says Novartis or Monsanto would make GM weed that maximized both THC *and* CBD.

Ecocide: The Murder of the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea didn't die, it was murdered.

-- Nazhbagin Musabaev, the governor of the Aralsk region, Kazakhstan

The destruction of what was once the 4th largest inland sea in the world was premeditated and deliberate, a result of Soviet central planners deciding to turn the deserts and arid steppes of Uzbekistan and Kazahkstan into cotton plantations for export. In order to do this, almost the entirety of the flows of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers were diverted into irrigation works, and the Aral left to dry up:

The Aral in 1985:

The Aral in 1997 (1957 shoreline in red):

The Aral in 2003:

Consequently, the economy as well as the ecology of the area collapsed:

* Commercial fish catch went from roughly 48,000 metric tons in 1957 to zero in 1982.
* The canning industry that depended on the catch collapsed, which had at its peak employed 60,000 people.
* The muskrat farming industry died (along with the muskrats), which had previously provided skins and were used in making hats.
* Of the 24 species of fish that used to live in the sea, only one survives (barely) in the Small Sea in the north.
* 173 animal species once lived in the two delta regions; 38 remained by 1988.
* Due to the loss of moisture in the air from the sea, summer temperatures have increased ~1.5C and winter temperatures have dropped an equal amount. As a result, the growing season in the area has been reduced by 10 days, forcing some commercial farmers to switch from cotton to rice (further exacerbating the water demand in the region).
*From 1960 to 1980, livestock pastures and hayfield areas under cultivation had shrunk by 81%, and yields halved.
* By 2005, hay yields in the region were 22 times less than 1960 levels.
* Estimates of economic damage to the basin in 1982 was roughly 1.5-2 billion rubles annually.

What once was described as an area with Africa-like biodiversity is now a toxic salt pan wasteland, subject to clouds of aerosolized salt & pesticide runoff, some of which has been found as far east as the Siberian Arctic, as well as the fertile valley up upland Uzbekistan (the dust is also collecting on the high mountain glaciers, reducing albedo and increasing melt-off, threatening the long-term source of water for the entire region.) On top of the economic and ecologic devastation, the concentration of toxic chemicals and minerals has led to an increased of incidence cancers, lung disease, and infant mortality in the Aral basin 30 times higher than other equivalent regions in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. And even this bill of particulars is just the tip of the iceberg for measuring the total devastation wrought by the destruction of the Aral.

But at least the two 'stans got what was intended- a huge cotton export sector (as well as extensive rice production). But then, even setting aside the immense cost of the disaster to the west of the producing regions, these crops come at a high cost to maintain above and beyond their thirsty natures, as according to Soviet figures in the 60's, while usual Soviet agriculture used ~25 kg/ha of pesticides and fertilizers, the cotton fields of the 'stans required ~550 kg/ha; even with modern fertilizer efficiencies introduced since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is clear that it takes a very large amount of effort to get these ill-suited crops to even grow in Central Asia. It is hard to imagine such an export industry arising naturally in Uzbekistan, despite the value of the crop on the global market; indeed, prior to the Soviet developments no such cultivation was even dreamed of in the region.

That environmental degradation of all sorts was rampant under Communism is a fairly well understood truth. But why the Aral tragedy in particular? So given the immense value of the Aral sea's commercial activities, how is it that the central planners got the cost-benefit analysis so wrong as to think that cotton cultivation would possibly come out ahead? The answer is an explicit illustration of Mises' argument against socialism in general; the central planners who devised the demise of the Aral had literally no means to rationally or accurately calculate the cost of letting the sea die because there were neither internal markets nor property rights among those dependent upon the sea.

Quoting extensively from Philip Mickin's 1988 paper on the Aral:

During planning for a major expansion of irrigation in the Aral Sea basin, conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, it was predicted that this would reduce inflow to the sea and substantially reduce its size. At the time, a number of experts saw this as a worthwhile tradeoff: a cubic meter of river water used for irrigation would bring far more value than the same cubic meter delivered to the Aral Sea. They based this calculation on a simple comparison of economic gains from irrigated agriculture against tangible economic benefits from the sea. Indeed, the ultimate shrinkage of the Aral to a residual brine lake as all its inflow was devoted to agriculture and other economic needs was viewed as both desirable and inevitable.

These experts largely dismissed the possibility of significant adverse environmental consequences accompanying recession. For example, some scientists claimed the sea had little or no impact on the climate of adjacent territory and, therefore, its shrinkage would not perceptibly alter meteorological conditions beyond the immediate shore zone. They also foresaw little threat of large quantities of salt blowing from the dried bottom and damaging agriculture in adjacent areas. This theory rested, in the first place, on the assumption that during the initial phases of the Aral's drying only calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate would be deposited on the former bottom. Although friable and subject to deflation, these salts have low plant toxicity. Second, it was assumed that the more harmful compounds, chiefly sodium sulfate and sodium chloride, which would be deposited as the sea continued to shrink and salinize, would not be blown off because of the formation of a durable crust of sodium chloride. Some optimists even suggested the dried bottom would be suitable for farming.

That they could come to such a conclusion is because unlike most of the activity at and around the Aral Sea, cotton can be traded worldwide and thanks to the information aggregating and calculating power of market prices, the central planners had an accurate view of what one side of the equation was worth; and precisely because there were no internal markets to put valuation on the commercial fishing of the Aral, the recreational usages, and other non-exportable activities, the planners had to rely on completely arbitrary valuations on the other hand. That the push for cotton cultivation was also driven by the insane desire for autarky (er, 'self sufficiency') is just bitter icing on the cake.

The moral of this story is that for lack of property rights & trade, a huge ecosystem (and the health of millions of people) was sacrificed. Let us all keep this in mind when latter day pundits claim that property rights and trade are enemies of the environment.

(Postscript- There's a slight glimmer of hope, for the tiny northern remnant at least.)

Desiccation of the Aral Sea: A Water Management Disaster in the Soviet Union by Philip P. Mickin
Environment in Central Asia page on the Aral Sea
The Aral Sea Disaster by Guy Phipps
The Aral Sea Tragedy by Paul Welsh
Desertification in the Near Aral Sea Region and Population Migration by Sergey Myagkov
Aral Sea Wikipedia Entry

Back to May Day 2007: A Day of Remembrance

Off the front page

Just checking to see if I pop down to the Community if I don't post to the main page.

Bio Blurb

Brian Doss is an ex-biologist currently working in the secondary mortgage market, a swing dancer, a caricature artist in a previous life, a capricorn, and a Tiger.

Brian graduated from Virginia Tech in 1996 with degrees in Biology (Microbiology/Immunology) and Economics. Foolishly thinking his career lay in being a professor of genetics, he enrolled in the University of Georgia's Genetics department, laboring 3 years in the augeanesque stables of research biology before realizing the error of his ways. Suitably chastened, he made his way back to Mordor, that is, the DC metro area, where he currently resides doing analytical work first contracting for the government and now for the mostly kinda sorta private sector.

Brian enjoys speaking in the third person about himself.

Its *Boys* for Pele, you new age dorks.

Neopagans & new-age dimwits alike are littering the top of Kilauea.

Burn! Part Deux

The Coyote Blog catches the progressosphere having it both ways on relative wage growth.


Radley Balko catches Alternet arguing against itself.

Should vaccines for only semi-communicable disease be mandatory?

Joe points our attention to a post/article over at TAPPED that tackles some of the issues regarding the HPV vaccine and its intersection with state power & public health. Since TAPPED is from the 'progressive' viewpoint, the desirability of universal vaccination (for, I presume, anything) is taken as a given. But as Joe intuits, that premise needs to be checked at least once before we grant it.

The usual public health rationale for mandatory/universal vaccination is usually composed of the "herd immunity" effect and references to externalities of individual sickness (you get sick and through no fault of my own, you make me sick, thus imposing a cost on me, etc). A key assumption behind this is that these relatively easily communicable diseases have a roughly equal probability of infecting any other given person in close/proximate connection to the currently infected individual, and thus its a numbers/mass probability game. And as far as it goes for the usual suspects like smallpox and tuberculosis and measles and such, the argument and the assumption are on solid ground, and it covers Joe's points 1-3.

But when it runs up to diseases that *aren't* easily transmissible, we start to hit a snag. For instance, the HIV infection risk for a monogamous, heterosexual, non-drug-injecting male is in the "chance of getting hit by lightning/terrorists" zone. The behavior of a straw-man combination of the highest risk categories for HIV infection (highly promiscuous gay dirty/shared-needle heroin using man, for instance) will have little to no impact on the first man's risk. Joe's 3 points start to look suspect, and so does a rationale based on easily and unintentially communicable diseases that have no significant behavioral modifier to infection probability. Read more »

Opponents Beware

In honor of Presidents Day (George Washington's Birthday, in particular), here's the tribute you've all seen a million times, once more again!: