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.gif“I 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.