Thursday, September 30, 2010

A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England. Contrary to some naysayers’ concerns, the Landaus’ timber-frame home will be neither stuffy nor, at 2,000 square feet, oppressively small.

It has been a good deal more expensive to build, however, than the average home. That might partly explain why the passive-building standard is only now getting off the ground in the United States — despite years of data suggesting that America’s drafty building methods account for as much as 40 percent of its primary energy use, 70 percent of its electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

Proponents of the standard, who note that passive homes often use up to 90 percent less heating and cooling energy than similar homes built to local code, say the Landaus embody the willingness of more homeowners to embrace passive building in the United States.

From the NYT. I'm curious to see a little more detailed breakdown of the costs and payback of passive building. The article notes that passive houses in the US cost "at least 15% more". Therefore a $200,000 house would then cost an additional $30 thousand to make it passive. Now, assuming an average monthly heating/cooling cost of $200, a 90% reduction would save around $2150 per year, so about a 14 year payoff, using optimistic numbers, and ignoring design and architect costs. More information can be found at the US Passive House Institute.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chris Blattman on conflict and development:
  1. Civil war is on the decline (while NGOs are on the rise)
  2. There’s little evidence that poverty causes conflict
  3. Poor and unemployed young men don’t seem to be a source of social instability
  4. Conflict and violence are at root a governance failure
  5. The MDGs and good governance may be at cross-purposes
  6. Elections do not good governance make
  7. Political development, like economic development, evolves slowly; Good governance will take a long, long time
  8. Institutions develop through internal forces, not foreign NGOs
  9. Just being there may be a governance intervention; outside the capitol you could be the only professional, impersonal, meritocratic bureaucracy in town
  10. We don’t really know how to build better governance systems (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try)

He follows up today with this:
Whether as policy makers or social scientists, if there’s one thing we think we know, it’s that poor and unemployed young men are a source of social instability. Underemployed young men have been implicated in Kenyan election violence, religious riots in Nigeria, and rebellion in Sierra Leone.

Economic theory gives us a solid explanation: without incomes, the returns to predation are greater than the returns to peaceful production. With future earnings prospects so poor, there is little to weigh against the costs and risks of violence are weighed.

Gary Becker first argued this case with American crime. It has been applied broadly, and is the basis of economic theories of civil war. Scattered evidence on economic shocks, or the income conflict correlation, suggests its truth.

The theory also provides a strong basis for a public intervention, because there is a negative externality not being taken into account by the market.

Here’s the thing, I’ve seen nothing to suggest any of this is true.

We really don’t have much evidence one way or the other, but the little we have argues against rather than for Becker’s philosophy.

There are actually several possible explanations for violence and social instability, some of them with more evidence in their favor. If they turn out to be true, then not only could youth employment programs not stem the risk of instability, they could heighten that risk.
A report submitted to the fifty-seventh annual meeting of the American Bar Association noted that by June 25 of 1934, some 485 codes and 95 supplements had been approved by the president and 242 more by the Administrator for Industrial Recovery. In the period of a year, 10,000 pages of law had been created, a figure that one had to compare with the mere 2,735 pages that constituted federal statute law. In twelve months, the NRA had generated more paper than the entire legislative output of the federal government since 1789.

Amity Shales, The Forgotten Man, p202.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NEWCASTLE, South Africa — The sheriff arrived at the factory here to shut it down, part of a national enforcement drive against clothing manufacturers who violate the minimum wage. But women working on the factory floor — the supposed beneficiaries of the crackdown — clambered atop cutting tables and ironing boards to raise anguished cries against it.

“Why? Why?” shouted Nokuthula Masango, 25, after the authorities carted away bolts of gaily colored fabric.

Structural unemployment in South Africa.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Federal spending versus median income:

Friday, September 24, 2010

The CDC on the effectiveness of gun control:
During 2000--2002, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (the Task Force), an independent nonfederal task force, conducted a systematic review of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of firearms laws in preventing violence, including violent crimes, suicide, and unintentional injury... The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Randy Barnett's Bill of Federalism:
  1. Restrictions on Tax Powers of Congress
  2. Limits of Commerce Power
  3. Unfunded Mandates and Conditions on Spending
  4. No Abuse of the Treaty Power
  5. Freedom of Political Speech and Press
  6. Power of States to Check Federal Power
  7. Term Limits for Congress
  8. Balanced Budget Line Item Veto
  9. The Rights Retained by the People
  10. Neither Foreign Law nor American Judges May Alter the Meaning of Constitution

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Chinese and Mugabe's blood diamonds.
Cuba: Fidel Castro finally admits the obvious.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

If governments did follow normal accounting practices, taking account of future liabilities today instead of pretending they don’t exist, then the national-debt numbers we talk about would be worse — far worse, dreadfully worse — than that monster $14 trillion–and–ratcheting–upward figure we throw around...

The debt numbers start to get really hairy when you add in liabilities under Social Security and Medicare — in other words, when you account for the present value of those future payments in the same way that businesses have to account for the obligations they incur. Start with the entitlements and those numbers get run-for-the-hills ugly in a hurry: a combined $106 trillion in liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, or more than five times the total federal, state, and local debt we’ve totaled up so far. In real terms, what that means is that we’d need $106 trillion in real, investable capital, earning 6 percent a year, on hand, today, to meet the obligations we have under those entitlement programs. For perspective, that’s about twice the total private net worth of the United States. (A little more, in fact.)

Kevin Williamson in the National Review. It is an outright scandal that the government isn't required to publish their books with the same GAAP guidelines that they require of private corporations.

THE actual figure of the US' national debt is much higher than the official sum of $US13.4 trillion ($14.3 trillion) given by the Congressional Budget Office, according to analysts cited on Sunday by the New York Post.

"The Government is lying about the amount of debt. It is engaging in Enron accounting," said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University and co-author of The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America's Economic Future...

Mr Kotlikoff says the debt is actually $US200 trillion.

Mr Moylan says the number is likely about $US60 trillion.

That is close to the figure quoted by David Walker, the US Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Economist on agriculture:
In 1967 Paul Ehrlich, a Malthusian, wrote that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over… In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.” Five years later, in “The Limits to Growth”, the Club of Rome (a group of business people and academics) argued that the world was running out of raw materials and that societies would probably collapse in the 21st century.

A year after “The Limits to Growth” appeared, however, and at a time when soaring oil prices seemed to confirm the Club of Rome’s worst fears, a country which was then a large net food importer decided to change the way it farmed. Driven partly by fear that it would not be able to import enough food, it decided to expand domestic production through scientific research, not subsidies. Instead of trying to protect farmers from international competition—as much of the world still does—it opened up to trade and let inefficient farms go to the wall. This was all the more remarkable because most of the country was then regarded as unfit for agricultural production...

Even more striking than the fact of its success has been the manner of it. Brazil has followed more or less the opposite of the agro-pessimists’ prescription. For them, sustainability is the greatest virtue and is best achieved by encouraging small farms and organic practices. They frown on monocultures and chemical fertilisers. They like agricultural research but loathe genetically modified (GM) plants. They think it is more important for food to be sold on local than on international markets. Brazil’s farms are sustainable, too, thanks to abundant land and water. But they are many times the size even of American ones. Farmers buy inputs and sell crops on a scale that makes sense only if there are world markets for them. And they depend critically on new technology. As the briefing explains, Brazil’s progress has been underpinned by the state agricultural-research company and pushed forward by GM crops. Brazil represents a clear alternative to the growing belief that, in farming, small and organic are beautiful.

I highly recommend reading the full briefing, it lays to rest a lot of bad reporting and predictions on sustainability of farming.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sunspot formation is triggered by a magnetic field, which scientists say is steadily declining. They predict that by 2016 there may be no remaining sunspots, and the sun may stay spotless for several decades. The last time the sunspots disappeared altogether was in the 17th and 18th century, and coincided with a lengthy cool period on the planet known as the Little Ice Age.

From Physorg via Insty

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tax compliance is a big deal in the US--by one estimate, the ratio of compliance costs to compliance revenue for the corporate tax is almost 30%. According to the Tax Foundation, the total compliance cost of the tax code is $196 billion--or more than 1% of GDP. The IRS estimates that Americans spend 6.6 billion hours a year filling out tax forms.

Megan McArdle

Monday, September 13, 2010

European terrorism by category:


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Instructables has an article on how to become a hypermiler. Reading through the list, I'm struck by how many of the suggestions are fundamentally dangerous. Among the things that they list are over-inflating tires, coasting with the engine off, wild swings in speed, removing emergency equipment, blocking the radiator, installing flimsy cardboard over your tires. Wow.

Also of note, that article recommends coasting by putting the car in neutral or turning the engine off. Yet with modern fuel injection, idling an engine while coasting in neutral can actually burn more fuel than leaving it in gear, so I would take the rest of their suggestions with a grain of salt.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

ESR on the myth of man as a killer:
Even when the fear of violence is less acute, the myth of man the killer well serves power elites of all kinds. To define the central problem of society as the repression of a universal individual tendency to violence is to imply an authoritarian solution; it is to deny without examination the proposition that individual self-interest and voluntary cooperation are sufficient for civil order.

In sum, the myth of man the killer degrades and ultimately disempowers the individual, and unhelpfully deflects attention from the social mechanisms and social instincts that actually underlie virtually all violence. If we are all innately killers, no one is responsible; the sporadic violence of crime and terrorism and the more systematic violence of governments (whether in "state" or "pre-state" societies, and in wartime or otherwise) is as inevitable as sex.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fascinating article on the Vatopadi monastery and the roots of the Greek financial scandal:
Like a lot of people who come to Vatopaidi, I suppose, I was less than perfectly sure what I was after. I wanted to see if it felt like a front for a commercial empire (it doesn’t) and if the monks seemed insincere (hardly). But I also wondered how a bunch of odd-looking guys who had walked away from the material world had such a knack for getting their way in it: how on earth do monks, of all people, wind up as Greece’s best shot at a Harvard Business School case study?

After about two hours I work up the nerve to ask him. To my surprise he takes me seriously. He points to a sign he has tacked up on one of his cabinets, and translates it from the Greek: the smart person accepts. the idiot insists.

He got it, he says, on one of his business trips to the Ministry of Tourism. “This is the secret of success for anywhere in the world, not just the monastery,” he says, and then goes on to describe pretty much word for word the first rule of improvisational comedy, or for that matter any successful collaborative enterprise. Take whatever is thrown at you and build upon it. “Yes … and” rather than “No … but.” “The idiot is bound by his pride,” he says. “It always has to be his way. This is also true of the person who is deceptive or doing things wrong: he always tries to justify himself. A person who is bright in regard to his spiritual life is humble. He accepts what others tell him—criticism, ideas—and he works with them.”
In a recent column on how progressives need to claim the Constitution, Dennis Henigan comments:
As recently as 2005, a conservative majority of the Supreme Court reaffirmed this precedent by recognizing federal power to prohibit the purely local production and medical use of marijuana authorized by state law.

The case he links to is Gonzales v Raich, with the majority in this case consisting of Stevens, joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. So, which one of these is the conservative?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Relative cost of goods:


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, was quoted in Lebanon's Daily Star as saying "if [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide." The implication here is clear, the root of the Arab-Israeli issue isn't Israel's existence, it is the Jew's existence.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Counterinsurgency, winning hearts and minds:
According to the latest CBS poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s decision to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq. In a remarkable turnaround, the Iraqis are the bigger opponents of the president’s plan. Iraqis want American soldiers to stay in their country more than Americans do.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The science of criminal profiling. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The reverse gender wage gap?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Victor Davis Hanson:
The truth about Iraq is that, for all the tragedy and the loss, the U.S. military performed a miracle. After nearly seven years, a constitutional government endures in that country. It is too often forgotten that all 23 of the writs for war passed by the Congress in 2002 — from enforcing the Gulf I resolutions and stopping the destruction of the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, to preventing the Iraqi state promotion of terrorism, ending suicide bounties on the West Bank, and stopping Iraq from invading or attacking neighbors or trying to acquire WMD — were met and satisfied by the U.S. military. It is also too often forgotten that, as a result, Libya gave up its WMD program; Dr. Khan’s nuclear franchise was shut down; Syria left Lebanon; and American troops in Saudi Arabia, put there as protection against Saddam, were withdrawn.
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