Monthly Archives: May 2008

Health entitlements threaten US long-term growth

The U.S. Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office has pro­vid­ed some impor­tant pro­jec­tions of the impacts of cur­rent U.S. health enti­tle­ment pro­grams on bud­get bal­ances and growth over the next three to five decades. This is a much greater threat to Unit­ed States growth and its con­tri­bu­tion to glob­al growth than the cur­rent cri­sis in finan­cial mar­kets. There is still time to avoid the crunch by cut­ting health ben­e­fits or rais­ing tax­es sharply, or both.

The Unit­ed States faces seri­ous long-run bud­getary chal­lenges. If action is not tak­en to curb the pro­ject­ed growth of bud­get deficits in com­ing decades, the econ­o­my will even­tu­al­ly suf­fer seri­ous dam­age. The issue fac­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers is not whether to address ris­ing deficits, but when and how to address them. At some point, pol­i­cy­mak- ers will have to increase tax­es, reduce spend­ing, or both.“CBO

But the sug­gest­ed reme­dies would take more focus and fis­cal con­ser­vatism than we’ve seen from the U.S. Con­gress for some time.

Obama makes Bush look good

On farm sub­si­dies at least. Here’s the “Change” guy again argu­ing for more of the same

FarmBill2007.gifI applaud the Senate’s pas­sage today of the Farm Bill, which will pro­vide America’s hard-work­ing farm­ers and ranch­ers with more sup­port and more pre­dictabil­i­ty… This bill is far from per­fect. I believe in tighter pay­ment lim­its and a ban on pack­er own­er­ship of live­stock… But with so much at stake, we can­not make the per­fect the ene­my of the good.”  From Oba­ma press release

Here’s what the White House says—accurately in my view— is wrong with this awful leg­is­la­tion that Bush says he will veto (over the fold …)

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Clay Shirky’s clever twist on a famil­iar point about the ‘social sur­plus’ frit­tered away watch­ing tele­vi­sion (but not by Wikipedia?).

And tele­vi­sion watch­ing? Two hun­dred bil­lion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put anoth­er way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watch­ing tele­vi­sion. Or put still anoth­er way, in the U.S., we spend 100 mil­lion hours every week­end, just watch­ing the ads. This is a pret­ty big sur­plus…”

F**k” and the OED

The prob­lem for lex­i­cog­ra­phers, says the OED, is not the taboo. It’s that the use of ‘fk’ and oth­er more obscure encod­ings makes it dif­fi­cult to doc­u­ment the ety­mol­o­gy (OMG, I’ve joined the blogs that say ‘fk’). If your Latin isn’t up to the 15th cen­tu­ry rhyme that the OED cred­its as the ear­li­est use, try this trans­la­tion.

Climate models do not justify even precautionary action

In an arti­cle that is itself a mod­el of its kind, Patrick Frank shows that the doc­u­ment­ed uncer­tain­ties in Gen­er­al Cir­cu­la­tion Mod­els (GCMs) are so large that it is impos­si­ble they could make fal­si­fi­able pre­dic­tions of the cli­mate, even over the next few years. Illu­so­ry pre­ci­sion in the IPCC’s trend lines, he points out, does not amount to accu­ra­cy and does not sup­port the sort of pre­cau­tion­ary action that the Gar­naut Review seems set to rec­om­mend.

those who advo­cate extreme poli­cies to reduce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions inevitably base their case on GCM pro­jec­tions, which some­how become real pre­dic­tions in pub­lic­i­ty releas­es. But even if these advo­cates admit­ted the uncer­tain­ty of their pre­dic­tions, they might still invoke the Pre­cau­tion­ary Prin­ci­ple and call for extreme reduc­tions ‘just to be safe’. This prin­ci­ple says, ‘Where there are threats of seri­ous or irre­versible dam­age, lack of full sci­en­tif­ic cer­tain­ty shall not be used as a rea­son for post­pon­ing cost-effec­tive mea­sures to pre­vent envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.’ That is, even if we don’t ful­ly know that CO2 is dan­ger­ous­ly warm­ing Earth cli­mate, we should cur­tail its emis­sion any­way, just in case.

How­ev­er, if the present uncer­tain­ty lim­it in Gen­er­al Cir­cu­la­tion Mod­els is at least 100 degrees per cen­tu­ry, we are left in total igno­rance about the tem­per­a­ture effect of increas­ing CO2. It’s not that we, ‘lack­full sci­en­tif­ic cer­tain­ty,’ it’s that we lack any sci­en­tif­ic cer­tain­ty. We lit­er­al­ly don’t know whether dou­bling atmos­pher­ic CO2 will have any dis­cernible effect on cli­mate at all.“Skep­tic Mag­a­zine, Patrick Frank

Frank’s arti­cle is well-writ­ten, well-doc­u­ment­ed and brim-full of insight into the lim­its of GCM mod­el­ing. He writes with­out jar­gon and with no more alge­bra than is absolute­ly nec­es­sary: remark­ably lit­tle as it turns out­for rea­sons that are illu­mi­nat­ing in them­selves.

More trade horrors from the US campaign trail

Obama’s pol­i­cy, it appears, is to enforce pre­cau­tion­ary action to reduce car­bon-emis­sions by means of trade sanc­tions: a pol­i­cy that the Euro­peans have pru­dent­ly dis­owned.

Ulti­mate­ly, the solu­tion to glob­al cli­mate change is going to be medi­at­ed through the lens of glob­al trade. Sen. Oba­ma has been sup­port­ive of mech­a­nisms that have the U.S. take a first step, and if after a peri­od of years oth­er nations are not act­ing in what is deemed to be a com­men­su­rate respon­si­ble man­ner, look to our trade laws to try to ensure that there’s no inequity or com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage imposed on U.S. busi­ness­es. The idea that was ini­ti­at­ed by the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tri­cal Work­ers, in which importers of ener­gy-inten­sive prod­ucts would be required to pur­chase per­mits for the car­bon embed­ded in those prod­ucts — the details need to be fleshed out, but that seems to be a rea­son­able approach to lev­el the play­ing field, if we get there.”(Oba­ma ener­gy advis­er Jason Grumet)

Farewell to John Cargher

JohnCargher.jpgJohn Cargher host­ed Singers Of Renown on ABC’s Radio Nation­al from 1966 until he decided—last week—to retire. He was the opera crit­ic for the Bul­letin for near­ly as long. He died today hav­ing giv­en me and mil­lions of oth­ers years and years and years of delight and star­tling dis­cov­er­ies.

Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, when he was still young and a mys­tery to every­one, said (in the Trac­ta­tus)

If we take eter­ni­ty to mean not infi­nite tem­po­ral dura­tion but time­less­ness, then eter­nal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visu­al field has no lim­its.
He might have said, too, in just the way the song nev­er ends.