Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Environmental regulation that harms the environment:
Why does neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil, and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985 percent pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A teutonic rift in Israeli-US relations:
“[Israeli Ambassador Michael] Oren noted that contrary to Obama's predecessors - George W. Bush and Bill Clinton - the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations,” Haaretz reports. “He added that his access as Israel's ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him. ‘This is a one-man show,’ Oren is quoted as saying.”
More on the racist roots of gun control.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Finally, effective political ideas are those that can still do good in half-baked form.

Tyler Cowen

Friday, June 25, 2010

Organic pesticides aren't necessarily green:
On a per-weight basis, all six of the pesticides had similar environmental impact factors (ranging from 8.7 to 47.2) with the organic variants being in the bottom half of this ranking.

When the data was converted into the environmental impact on a field use basis (pounds needed per acre), the organic pesticides did not fare so well. The mineral oil had by far the largest environmental impact factor, a whopping 280.2 rating; the next most damaging pesticide only garnered a 12.5 environmental impact factor. The fungus did better, but still ranked fourth out of six in terms of least environmental impact.

The authors conclude that, when compared to synthetic pesticides, the organic variants were not as effective because they also killed off a large number of the aphid's natural predators.

The paper cautions that those seeking to be kind to the environment should not fall for the simplistic belief that organic is environmentally friendly—a comprehensive review of pesticides is needed to determine which is truly best for a given use.

"The consumer demand for organic products is increasing partly because of a concern for the environment," said one author, Rebecca Hallett. "But it's too simplistic to say that because it's organic it's better for the environment. [...] It's a simplification that just doesn't work when it comes to minimizing environmental impact."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere – the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – according to a new study led by two Stanford Earth scientists.

The yield improvements reduced the need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world's total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

The researchers also calculated that for every dollar spent on agricultural research and development since 1961, emissions of the three principal greenhouse gases – methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – were reduced by the equivalent of about a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide – a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.

"Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Jennifer Burney, lead author of a paper describing the study that will be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the while thing.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Peter [the Great] was never again to pursue his dream of opening up a golden road to India, along which would flow unimagined wealth. He had already taken on more than one man could hope to achieve in a lifetime, and accomplished much of it. But long after his death in 1725 a strange and persistent story began to circulate thought Europe about Peter's last will and testament. From his death bed, it was said, he had secretly commanded his heirs and successors to pursue what he believed to be Russia's historical destiny- the domination of the world. Possession of India and Constantinople were the twin keys to this, and he urged them not to rest until both were firmly in Russian hands.

...Catherine [the Great], like Peter, was an expansionist. It was no secret the she dreamed of expelling the Turks from Constantinople and restoring Byzantine rule there, albeit under her firm control.

Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, p 20-21.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Green Fuels: Oil and Coal ?
Kerosene helped wean America (and everyone else) off our “addiction” to whales. Oil and coal helped end our addiction to wood for, well, everything. Wood was not only a heating fuel, it was instrumental to railroads and all manner of construction. Ronald Bailey has noted that “Railroads, the 19th century’s ‘modern’ form of transportation, consumed nearly 25 percent of all the wood used in America, for both track ties and fuel.” In 1900, New York City alone supported over 120,000 horses who befouled the water and the air in the city, but also required vast amounts of land to supply the hay that fueled them.

Today, more American land is covered by forests—by far—than at the end of the 19th century. By the 1860s, Massachusetts and Connecticut had lost 70 percent of their forests. Today nearly 70 percent of those states are forested again. Vermont was once nearly denuded but now nearly 80 percent of it is covered in trees. In 1880, New York was only one-quarter forests. Now, more than two-thirds of the Empire State is covered in forests. The same holds true for much of Europe. In 1860s Switzerland, 18 percent of the land was forested. In 2005 30 percent was forested. In the 1810s, Denmark was 4 percent forested, in 2005, that country was 11 percent forested. Scotland in the 1920s: 5 percent; in 2005: 17 percent. France during the 1830s was 14 percent forested, in 2005 it was double that. These numbers come from a National Academy of Sciences report “Returning forests analyzed with the forest identity.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Some serious realism on the Middle East:

Lost in the latest Middle Eastern controversy is the fact that the prospects for Israeli-Arab peace are steadily improving, and that the apparently impending defection of Turkey from the Western camp is a great opportunity. The predictable consequence of Europe’s treating Turkey like a shabby, swarthy mendicant knocking at its back door for 30 years — embracing it when an ally in the region was needed, but rebuffing it at other times — is the defeat of the Kemalist Western emulators by the Muslim Turkish nativists.

If the Turks, who are historically no more popular with the Arabs than the Persians (Iranians) are, are throwing in with the militant Islamists, this will severely erode Arab enthusiasm for continuing to carry on the struggle with Israel. Turkey is now playing footsie with the Islamic Brotherhood, which murdered Anwar Sadat and is the principal foe of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Israel is no threat to these Arab powers, but Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood are...

There are two factors in Israeli-Palestinian relations that justify some optimism. First, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad (an economist with no background as a terrorist), has called for the right of return of the millions of Palestinian refugees to the West Bank and not to Israel. This removes the greatest stumbling block to peace, the long-standing Arab demand to inundate Israel with Palestinians.

Second, the Sharon policy of encouraging economic growth in the West Bank and strangling Gaza, as long as Fatah (West Bank) accepts Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and Hamas (Gaza) does not, is working. The West Bank is enjoying an 8 to 10 percent economic-growth rate, and can have statehood. (The new West Bank state must be narrowed somewhat on the west, to make Israel wider than the nine miles it was at its slenderest point prior to the 1967 war, but the reduction can be compensated for in the south, where, when Gaza adheres to the same agreement, it can be deeper. The two parts of Palestine, and north and south Israel, can have an interchange — with tunnels and overpasses — that keeps both halves of both states connected, and respects the sovereignty of both.) As part of a general peace, Israel could give the Arab countrieseconomic assistance and could join the Arab powers in expelling radical Iranian and Turkish political influences.

Turkey presumably imagines that it can parlay its position into one of strength between the Muslim and Western worlds, but cuddling up to terrorists is not the way to do it. If Turkey becomes seriously obstreperous, the restraints that have been imposed on Iraqi Kurdish activity in Kurdish Turkey could be relaxed. Turkey’s attempted Janus act will be a fiasco, unless Western diplomacy has become completely inept.

It remains only to stop the Iranian development of a nuclear military capability. If the U.S. won’t deal with this, there should be a “Middle Eastern solution,” and Israel should lead precise air interdictions as frequently as necessary to keep a deliverable nuclear warhead out of Iran’s hands until the world can have a reasonable comfort level that Iran could be trusted with it.

Turkey’s flotilla to Gaza was completely irresponsible, but in shedding its Turkish baggage, the West could radically improve its relations with Russia and the Arabs. It is all to play for.

One thing that is frequently overlooked in much of the modern commentary on Turkey is the role of Russia. The Turks and the Russians are historical enemies, from long before the Crimea War. But if Turkey wishes to loosen its ties with the west, it must remember that modern Russia is no better ally then it was two centuries ago. The Islamists in Turkey may be looking toward a Persian-Turkish alignment with the tact backing of the Chinese, but China's ability to project power, and to shelter her allies is something that is yet to be tested. China's recent quest for extending a sphere of influence has been limited to countries, like Guinea, Thailand or North Korea, that can be brought easily in line. So far she has shown little willingness to befriend strong allies. I certainly don't like all of Conrad's ideas, but he shows a better understanding of the local dynamics than most analysts.

UPDATE: Walter Russel Mead comments:
The move to the east has many more dangers and many fewer advantages. Anti-Kemalist (or post-Kemalist) Turks may see the Islamic world as a warm and welcoming place, but the Middle East in particular is a place of hard politics and bitter enmities. Turkey’s pro-Iranian intervention has alarmed and enraged many of the region’s wealthiest and most powerful Arab states who see Iran as a greater danger even than Israel. The Turkish rapprochement with Syria similarly infuriates Arabs who see Syria as part of a hostile ‘Shi’a Crescent’ stretching from Iran to Lebanon that seeks to undermine both the Arab nation and orthodox Islam. Turks sometimes do not fully grasp just how much the Arab world resented Ottoman imperialism; Ottoman nostalgia may be fashionable among some Turks, but it has few echoes in countries that suffered grievously under what they saw as corrupt and ineffective Ottoman rule.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wikileaks has taken on a noble task of unearthing censored and secret information to expose corruption and human rights abuses from governments around the world. In their quest for complete openness and transparency, they've scored a number of significant hits, from exposing corruption in Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, unearthing toxic chemical dumping in the Ivory Coast, to leaking secret Scientology manuals. The problem with Wikileaks is not their mission, but their execution, particularly in the manner in which they mis-represent some of their material. The most egregious example is of course the infamous Apache gun video, where they completely ignore the fact that the journalists killed were traveling with armed combatants in the middle of an active battlefield.

A number of recent news stories have made reference to Wikileaks posting procedures for secret CIA rendition flights, so I went looking for these. On their site, I found unclassified military procedures for transporting detainees, labeled as relating to secret CIA rendition flights. But the CIA is a different orginization that the military, and rendition is a very different thing than detainment. There is no evidence the the military has ever been involved in rendition. In a similar fashion, on the same page Wikileaks put scare quotes around an excerpt referring to detainees with no intelligence value; the clear implication is that this is somehow not in line with human rights objectives. But, the military has full rights to detain any enemy combatants regardless of their intelligence value. In other times these were known as POWs. The result is that Wikileaks comes across as sloppy and amateurish. This is unfortunate, as these controversies threaten to overshadow what is a noble goal.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One reason is almost certainly because of embarrassment over an April letter from President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that set out U.S. conditions for an Iranian nuclear fuel swap deal. (POLITICO briefly saw a copy of the Obama letter to Erdogan but didn’t get a chance to examine it closely. Sources said it closely resembled an April 20th letter from Obama to Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that was published in the Brazilian media.)

Though Brazil and Turkey managed to get Iran to agree to the three major conditions set out in the Obama letters in a May 18 agreement with Tehran – that Iran would send 1200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium, abroad, in one batch – the United States and its allies rejected the Brazilian-Turkish-Iranian deal as insufficient and vowed to pursue their sanctions push at the U.N.

While U.S. officials insist and there is much evidence for the fact that in the month following the April 20 Obama letters, Turkey and Brazil were made aware that the U.S. position was more complex and found its eleventh hour negotiations with Tehran unhelpful, the administration has not entirely dispelled the impression that the two countries might have felt they were getting mixed signals from Washington.

Turkish officials and journalists suggest a gap between the message and tone taken by Obama and the White House versus the posture taken by the U.S. diplomatic corps on the Iran nuclear fuel deal.

This reminded be of something Lee Smith pointed out:
President Barack Obama’s point-man for his latest approach to the Muslim world is John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism czar, recently described by the Washington Post as one of the president’s most trusted advisers. Two weeks ago Brennan explained to a Washington audience that “we need to try to build up the more moderate elements” within Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shia militia. The State Department rushed in to explain that there was no change in U.S. policy toward a group it has designated a terrorist organization—however, this was the second time Brennan had spoken of reaching out to Hezbollah “moderates” (and the second time he was corrected by the State Department), which means he has the president’s approval.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On the bounty hunter in Pakistan, Foreign Policy Passport blog comments, "still, the episode is a pretty good reminder that fighting terrorism is perhaps best left to the professionals." Quite the opposite, offering rewards in an effort to privatize searches for outlaws is quite effective, both overseas and domestically:
A whopping one-quarter of all felony defendants fail to appear (FTA) at trial. Of these some thirty percent can't be found after a year.

The police are overrun with unserved arrest warrants for failure to appear and typically devote little time to the task.

As a result, FTA appear rates are some 28% lower for those released on commercial bail compared to those released on their own recognizance.

When a defendant does FTA he is about 50% more likely to be caught and is caught much sooner if a bounty hunter is on his trail compared to if only the police are involved. (Both of these effects are after controlling for other relevant factors, of course).

The myth of the "professional" and in particular the expertness of government is a common left-wing trope that usually doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

The real Robin Hood. The movie was excellent, it put the myth into the historical context that shows more nuance than most. Overall, much better than I was expecting.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who wants Network Neutrality? The most vocal proponent of the regulation the wonderfully named Free Press, a lobbyist group founded by Robert McChesney. So, what is McChesney's agenda, and how do we free the press?
Educating people about the media and fighting to make changes in the short-term, not just in the long term, became of utmost importance. Instead of waiting for the revolution to happen, we learned that unless you make significant changes in the media, it will be vastly more difficult to have a revolution.

This from an interview on a site called Socialist Project. (h/t: Daily Caller). Groups like FP rely on shill hysteronics to describe our news environment. In their Issues section, they state "the number of newspapers with Washington bureaus has dropped by more than 50 percent since 1985, and half the states no longer have a newspaper reporter covering Congress.", but, why should I care about newspapers, when their readership is declining, yet TV and internet consumption is increasing? On another page they bemoan consolidation. But, frankly, why should I care when Pew reports that "some 46% of Americans say they get news from four to six media platforms on a typical day. Just 7% get their news from a single media platform on a typical day." Not to mention, that they're referring to "giants". Very little of my typical daily news consumption comes from the giants.

Ironically, although FP complains about consolidation-- their solution is subsidies and government funding. How much more consolidated does it get though, than the same people exercising political power being the primary ones to exercise speech. Free, indeed.
Father Zakaria Botros, Islam's Public Enemy Number One, scores another bizarre victory for woman's rights.
Life in North Korea

Friday, June 11, 2010

One of the common misconceptions about the U.S-Saudi relationship is that Riyadh supplies Americans with most of their energy resources. In fact, while Saudi Arabia is the swing producer of oil, only about 20 percent of our oil comes from the Gulf; our presence there is in order to prevent any disruption that would send oil prices everywhere soaring and to secure the free flow of fossil fuels that supply most of western Europe, Japan, China, and India with their energy needs. If it seems strange that the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet plays watchdog for the rest of the world's oil, it is worth remembering that American trade and commerce depend on the stability and prosperity of other nations and the global economy as a whole.

Lee Smith, The Strong Horse, p133.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Contrary to conventional wisdom, local food does not lower levels of CO2 emitted:
One of the arguments most often heard, however, is about energy. And at a time of rising concern about climate change, the great distances that most of our food travels are a potent symbol of the system's profligacy and cost in greenhouse gases. For local-food activists, "food miles" have become a favored measure of environmental impact. Food activists in the US and especially in Western Europe have pushed to put the term on menus and grocery-store labels.

"[T]he typical item of food on an American's plate travels some fifteen hundred miles to get there," Michael Pollan writes in "The Omnivore's Dilemma," "and is frequently better traveled and more worldly than its eater."

But a gathering body of evidence suggests that local food can sometimes consume more energy -- and produce more greenhouse gases -- than food imported from great distances. Moving food by train or ship is quite efficient, pound for pound, and transportation can often be a relatively small part of the total energy "footprint" of food compared with growing, packaging, or, for that matter, cooking it. A head of lettuce grown in Vermont may have less of an energy impact than one shipped up from Chile. But grow that Vermont lettuce late in the season in a heated greenhouse and its energy impact leapfrogs the imported option. So while local food may have its benefits, helping with climate change is not always one of them.

Ezra Klein at the left leaning American Prospect busts out some interesting numbers:
two Carnegie Mellon researchers recently broke down the carbon footprint of foods, and their findings were a bit surprising. 83 percent of emissions came from the growth and production of the food itself. Only 11 percent came from transportation, and even then, only 4 percent came from the transportation between grower and seller (which is the part that eating local helps cut). Additionally, food shipped from far off may be better for the environment than food shipped within the country -- ocean travel is much more efficient than trucking.

Read that third sentence again, you emit more CO2 per pound of food driving home from the grocery store than is emitted moving that same food thousands of miles to the grocery store.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wired: Inconvenient Truths of the Environmental Movement:
the truth is that when it comes to greenhouse gases, organics can be part of the problem.
Take milk. Dairy cows raised on organic feed aren't pumped full of hormones. That means they produce less milk per Holstein — about 8 percent less than conventionally raised cattle. So it takes 25 organic cows to make as much milk as 23 industrial ones. More cows, more cow emissions. But that's just the beginning. A single organically raised cow puts out 16 percent more greenhouse gases than its counterpart. That double whammy — more cows and more emissions per cow — makes organic dairies a cog in the global warming machine.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Securing fundamental human rights:
Despite constant talk of tribal tensions, experts say that in Liberia – and in much of Africa – ethnicity is rarely the real issue. Mr. Unruh, at McGill, says ethnic conflict, or even drought or famine, are usually symptoms of a deeper land dispute. "Underneath all of that," he says, "is an ongoing land conflict, or different understandings about how land is accessed and used."

One of the main problems is that "land reform" is a hoary term, in the past used as frequently by socialists and statists to justify grabbing land. But, a free economy is grounded in property rights:
It seemed as if these chiefs — who would otherwise prefer secure property rights — were suffering from distributive conflicts over land and a lack of information about their boundaries and the extent of allocations. Common sense seemed to dictate that if lands were dutifully surveyed, demarcated, and adjudicated, and chiefs were given registers in which they could record allocations, they would surely avoid infringing on each other’s parcels and end these problems. So I asked Muntari [the local Ghanaian planning official] what the state was doing to help chiefs solve these distributive conflicts and information problems.

Muntari’s response was unsettling. He claimed that, after working with chiefs for seventeen years, he had come to the conclusion that chiefs did not want clear boundaries, functional property registers, and an environment devoid of disputes. He argued that the chiefs would sabotage any effort to provide these features. According to Muntari, in the absence of such mechanisms, cash-strapped, land-hungry chiefs could conveniently “mistakenly” allocate the lands of neighboring chiefs or sell land that their ancestors had sold earlier. Further, where tenants engaged in subversive political behavior, chiefs could conveniently award their rights to more loyal subjects…

Simply put, chiefs did not want property rights security.

In West Africa, the lack of secure property rights was the key element of governmental corruption, and as such it is a fundamental human right, as Ato Onoma makes clear. In Liberia, much of the conflict that I dealt with was a result of either long standing disputes over who exactly owns the land and on what terms somebody let someone else use it. Just as frequently, I ran into issues with overlapping mineral concessions, granted at various levels of the economy, with multinationals gathering claims from Monrovia, local businessmen getting stakes from county officials, and locals digging on small individual claims on bribes to the nearby inspector. In one instance, an inspector admitted openly that he received bribes-- he didn't call it as such, but when asked about getting his paychecks from the government, he admitted that he got most of his food from those that he should have been regulating.

But, land deeds simply don't exist in most cases, and sorting out traditional claims to ownership is a messy business. The mere act of clarifying legal status of property rights is open to political manipulations, making this a problem what simply won't go away.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What is the marginal benefit in CO2 for purchasing a Prius?
building a Toyota Prius consumes 113 million British Thermal Units (BTU), while a gallon of gas contains about 113,000 BTU. The 2008 Prius can go 48 miles per gallon (on highways).

A 1998 Toyota Tercel, on the other hand, does 35 mpg and, since it is used, the carbon cost of construction has already been paid.

This would mean that it would take about 129,230 miles of driving before the 2008 Prius surpasses the 1998 Tercel in eco-friendliness.

A more interesting question is what is the marginal cost of building a Prius versus a conventional car?
Cash for clunkers:
As the facts come out, it becomes more and more apparent how dedicated to peace that Gaza "Aid" flotilla truly was:
During radio transmissions between Israeli Navy and the ships of the “Free Gaza” Flotilla on 31 May 2010, the Israeli Navy ship attempts to make contact with the ‘Defne Y’ on channel 1-6. Other ships from the flotilla respond on the channel, without identifying themselves. At some point during the radio exchange the Israeli Navy is told by one of the ships to “shut up, go back to Auschwitz” (2:05) and “don’t forget 9-11″ (5:42).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How big of a problem are rising sea levels?

If you thought rising tides spelled certain doom for islanders across the globe, though, think again. A new study by the University of Auckland finds that over the course of 60 years, 80 percent of tracked Pacific islands actually stayed the same size — or even grew — despite an average annual sea-level rise of two millimeters. Out of the 27 islands the researchers examined, only four showed signs of shrinkage. How have these islands adapted to sea-level changes? With coral

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is Iran spreading a Shia empire?
Iran is now waging a proxy war against Saudi Arabia and Yemen by supporting a radical sect of Zaydi Shiites described as the Houthis, after the founder of their movement. The Iranians aren’t merely trying to destabilize Arab countries that are aligned too closely to the U.S.; they are trying to create a Shiite empire extending from Iran through southern Iraq to Syria — where the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Muslims, are in power — to Lebanon. Now Iran is trying to create a Shiite enclave in northern Yemen. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it is easy to predict where they will go next: Bahrain, whose population is majority Shiite, and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, which conveniently for Iran is 75% Shiite and is the location of 90% of the country’s oil.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cross country comparisons of neo-liberal economic policies.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Electricity is not a source of energy, cont.:
This study, conducted by the Argonne National Laboratory and China's Tsinghua University, specifically focuses on China and concludes that mass [Electric Vehicle] adoption could lead to tremendously higher emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide due to the country's widespread use of coal as a power source.

Here's the skinny from the study:
  • China currently utilizes Euro III emission standards throughout much of the nation, though Euro IV is in use in some larger cities and will slowly replace the older standard within ten years. If charged by the current coal-heavy electrical mix displayed in the table above, EVs would double the nitrogen oxide emissions of Euro III gasoline vehicles.
  • EVs will not reduce carbon dioxide emissions in China unless coal technologies are improved upon or a shift towards cleaner power generation occurs in the future.
  • Mass adoption of EVs in China will cause sulfur dioxide emissions to increase by three to ten times the current level. Even advanced technologies such as coal washing cannot reduce sulfur dioxide emissions of EVs down to gasoline-powered vehicle levels.
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