Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I, for one, would never have predicted this:
“[I]ndividuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years thereafter showed an average eight-point IQ decline.

“Quitting or reducing cannabis use did not appear to fully restore intellectual functioning among adolescent-onset former persistent cannabis users,” [Professor Terrie Moffitt] said.

Although eight points did not sound much, it was not trivial, she warned.

It meant that an average person dropped far down the intelligence rankings, so that instead of 50 per cent of the population being more intelligent than them, 71 per cent were.
Meier, et al, PNAS, Aug 27, 2012.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some more indicators on China:
In the past 5-8 years, and especially the past 3, China has built an enormous amount of stuff that nobody wants, needs, or uses. Fueled by a lending boom that began in late 2008 and tripled total lending in 2009, Chinese government at all levels has been spending money like a drunken sailor on leave. What should scare people however, is just how poorly this money has been spent. To give you a few examples:
  • The Beijing government admits that 50% of apartments sit empty. A similar number is found in most major cities in China, not to mention the entire cities that sit empty.
  • After major investment in wind power generation, most wind power capacity was incapable of generating power was not hooked up to the grid.
  • Housing price to income ratios that would make a California real estate bubble blush. The average home price to income ratio peaked around 12 in California. The China Daily (the Communist party mouth piece) speaks regularly of ratios in excess of 25. One recent article noted that the average price per square foot in Beijing was nearly $300 while monthly per capita GDP was only $435. That means using the long term global average for the income to housing price ratio, the average Beijinger should be able to buy a 91 square foot apartment.
  • Industrial capacity utilization that is officially at 60%. (If you believe the official numbers I have a 91 square foot apartment I’d like to sell you) This is driven by state owned banks and enterprises that over invested in 2009 due to the stimulus fueled lending boom.
h/t: MR.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Impact of all federal taxes (2009):

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Who paid how much in taxes (2007)?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Who taxes the rich the most? Share of taxes paid by the richest 10%

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Share the Wealth? Top marginal income tax rates and income tax share for the top 1% of earners, 1970-2006:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How dangerous is professional football to the long term health of its players? Apparently, it is the opposite of dangerous:
That [study], conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (and then peer-reviewed), compared mortality among retired football players and nonathletes matched for age and race and found that the ex-athletes were dying about half as often as one might expect. In other words, the health risks associated with playing football were being more than outweighed by the benefits of being a pro athlete—excellent training and nutrition, a good salary, top-quality medical care, and so on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

William Happer, Professor of Physics at Princeton, on the history of CO2 and warming:
There have been many warmings and coolings in the past when the CO2 levels did not change. A well-known example is the medieval warming, about the year 1000, when the Vikings settled Greenland (when it was green) and wine was exported from England. This warm period was followed by the “little ice age” when the Thames would frequently freeze over during the winter. There is no evidence for significant increase of CO2 in the medieval warm period, nor for a significant decrease at the time of the subsequent little ice age. Documented famines with millions of deaths occurred during the little ice age because the cold weather killed the crops. Since the end of the little ice age, the earth has been warming in fits and starts, and humanity’s quality of life has improved accordingly.

A rare case of good correlation between CO2 levels and temperature is provided by ice-core records of the cycles of glacial and interglacial periods of the last million years of so. But these records show that changes in temperature preceded changes in CO2 levels, so that the levels were an effect of temperature changes. This was probably due to outgassing of CO2 from the warming oceans and the reverse effect when they cooled.

The most recent continental ice sheets began to melt some twenty thousand years ago. During the “Younger Dryas” some 12,000 years ago, the earth very dramatically cooled and warmed by as much as 10 degrees Celsius in fifty years.

The earth’s climate has always been changing. Our present global warming is not at all unusual by the standards of geological history, and it is probably benefiting the biosphere. Indeed, there is very little correlation between the estimates of CO2 and of the earth’s temperature over the past 550 million years (the “Phanerozoic” period). The message is clear that several factors must influence the earth’s temperature, and that while CO2 is one of these factors, it is seldom the dominant one. The other factors are not well understood. Plausible candidates are spontaneous variations of the complicated fluid flow patterns in the oceans and atmosphere of the earth—perhaps influenced by continental drift, volcanoes, variations of the earth’s orbital parameters (ellipticity, spin-axis orientation, etc.), asteroid and comet impacts, variations in the sun’s output (not only the visible radiation but the amount of ultraviolet light, and the solar wind with its magnetic field), variations in cosmic rays leading to variations in cloud cover, and other causes.

The existence of the little ice age and the medieval warm period were an embarrassment to the global-warming establishment, because they showed that the current warming is almost indistinguishable from previous warmings and coolings that had nothing to do with burning fossil fuel. The organization charged with producing scientific support for the climate change crusade, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), finally found a solution. They rewrote the climate history of the past 1000 years with the celebrated “hockey stick” temperature record.

The first IPCC report, issued in 1990, showed both the medieval warm period and the little ice age very clearly. In the IPCC’s 2001 report was a graph that purported to show the earth’s mean temperature since the year 1000. A yet more extreme version of the hockey stick graph made the cover of the Fiftieth Anniversary Report of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization. To the surprise of everyone who knew about the strong evidence for the little ice age and the medieval climate optimum, the graph showed a nearly constant temperature from the year 1000 until about 150 years ago, when the temperature began to rise abruptly like the blade of a hockey stick. The inference was that this was due to the anthropogenic “pollutant” CO2.

Monday, August 20, 2012

David Evans, an Australian government consultant on climate change:
Let’s be perfectly clear. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and other things being equal, the more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer the planet. Every bit of carbon dioxide that we emit warms the planet. But the issue is not whether carbon dioxide warms the planet, but how much.

Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.

The disagreement comes about what happens next.

The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain? Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas.

This is the core idea of every official climate model: For each bit of warming due to carbon dioxide, they claim it ends up causing three bits of warming due to the extra moist air. The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three — so two-thirds of their projected warming is due to extra moist air (and other factors); only one-third is due to extra carbon dioxide...

Weather balloons had been measuring the atmosphere since the 1960s, many thousands of them every year. The climate models all predict that as the planet warms, a hot spot of moist air will develop over the tropics about 10 kilometres up, as the layer of moist air expands upwards into the cool dry air above. During the warming of the late 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the weather balloons found no hot spot. None at all. Not even a small one. This evidence proves that the climate models are fundamentally flawed, that they greatly overestimate the temperature increases due to carbon dioxide.

This evidence first became clear around the mid-1990s...

The Earth has been in a warming trend since the depth of the Little Ice Age around 1680. Human emissions of carbon dioxide were negligible before 1850 and have nearly all come after the Second World War, so human carbon dioxide cannot possibly have caused the trend. Within the trend, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation causes alternating global warming and cooling for 25 to 30 years at a go in each direction. We have just finished a warming phase, so expect mild global cooling for the next two decades.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Audacity of Faith and Obama's discussion of religion.
And this doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious…

These sentences, together with the earlier excerpts, draw out the implications that seem to have been the president’s key lessons for the graduates assembled before him. The message of this complex of ideas (passion, self-righteousness, and humility in the context of a “world of competing claims about [the] right and [the] true”) is unmistakable. It is the familiar rationalistic argument that, only if believers internalize the relativism (“doubt”) of which the President spoke at Notre Dame, can we avoid the intolerance, oppression, and even slaughter that history teaches are the perennial tendency of religion...

This doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

The contrast here between a doubt-addled “faith” to which we “cling” and which involves “parochial” principles on the one hand, and “universal” “reason” on the other, further suggests that, in its native form—sans infused “doubt”—religion is beyond the sphere of the rational...

The possibility that AIDS activists and Planned Parenthood might be dogmatic, and need to be more “humble” of mind and heart, never crossed President Obama’s lips at Notre Dame. The deeply partisan effect of his own remarks passed largely unnoticed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The creepy New Deal:
The centerpiece of the conflict between FDR and the Court was a program called the National Industrial Recovery Act, which was challenged in a case called Shechter Poultry v. United States. NIRA was—well, it hardly seems enough to call it a terrible program. The National Recovery Administration, the entity at the heart of the Schecter Poultry case, was quasi-fascist, and I do use that term advisedly. It involved organizing the entire economy into giant business cartels which were basically explicitly encouraged to engage in price-fixing in return for paying higher wages. Businesses that signed onto a NRA code (early version here) got to display an NRA Blue Eagle (fun fact: the Philadelphia Eagles are named after this logo). Americans were supposed to promise not to shop at any business that didn’t display that blue eagle. In a particularly creepy touch, 100,000 school children were apparently marched onto Boston Common so that Mayor James Curley could lead them in a pledge: "I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies... I will help President Roosevelt bring back good times."
The myth of "Social Darwinism" as a right-wing philosophy:
At the heart of Hofstadter's case is the following passage from Spencer's famous first book, Social Statics (1851): "If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die."

That certainly sounds rough, but as it turns out, Hofstadter failed to mention the first sentence of Spencer's next paragraph, which reads, "Of course, in so far as the severity of this process is mitigated by the spontaneous sympathy of men for each other, it is proper that it should be mitigated." As philosophy professor Roderick Long has remarked, "The upshot of the entire section, then, is that while the operation of natural selection is beneficial, its mitigation by human benevolence is even more beneficial." This is a far cry from Hofstadter's summary of the text, which has Spencer advocating that the "unfit...should be eliminated."

Similarly, Hofstadter repeatedly points to Spencer's famous phrase, "survival of the fittest," a line that Charles Darwin added to the fifth edition of Origin of Species. But by fit, Spencer meant something very different from brute force. In his view, human society had evolved from a "militant" state, which was characterized by violence and force, to an "industrial" one, characterized by trade and voluntary cooperation. Thus Spencer the "extreme conservative" supported labor unions (so long as they were voluntary) as a way to mitigate and reform the "harsh and cruel conduct" of employers.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What is the Bo Xilai case really about: factional infighting, Bo’s notorious egotism, or ideological conflict?
To a certain extent all of the above, though none of these explanations, nor any combination of them, adequately tells the whole story. Something far greater is at stake.

Bo Xilai’s story is certainly linked to China’s present-day factional politics, which I characterize as “one party, two coalitions.” One coalition is led by former president Jiang Zemin’s protégés. While the core of this coalition used to be the so-called Shanghai Gang, “princelings” (leaders who come from high-ranking family backgrounds) have become more central since the fall of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu on corruption charges in 2006. Bo Xilai is a princeling, as his father Bo Yibo was a revolutionary veteran who served as vice premier. The other coalition primarily consists of former officials from the Chinese Communist Youth League and is led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. These two coalitions fight with each other over power, influence, and policy initiatives. Bo Xilai’s career advancement can certainly be attributed to his princeling background and his patron-client ties with Jiang Zemin.

Bo’s downfall is also related to his own egotistical personality and notorious ambition. While his ambitions were most recently focused on achieving a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, it would have not stopped there. In the months preceding the crisis, members of Bo’s staff spread the rumor that he could become China’s next premier. In addition, Su Wei, a scholar close to Bo at the Chongqing Party School, compared Bo Xilai and Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan to former leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in comments circulated in both the Chongqing and national media.

The Bo episode is also related to ideological conflict, as he was associated with China’s “new left” thinking—especially through his Mao-style campaigns, such as the “smash the black” anti–organized crime campaign—and advocated an ultra-egalitarian and ultra-nationalist development model for China, known as the “Chongqing model.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

PJMedia points to a decent rundown of the problems that Steve McIntyre had with some of the underlying data in the infamous "hockey stick" graph:
The real damage came when a retired Canadian mining engineer, Steve McIntyre, and a professor at the University of Guelph, Ross McKitrick, started digging into Mann’s methodology, and found flaws in both his statistical analysis and data interpretation, and published a paper describing them in Geophysical Research Letters in 2005. They showed that Mann’s methodology would generate a hockey stick almost independently of the data input, by feeding it spectral noise.
McIntyre eventually got all the underlying raw data and was able to recently replicate some of the work:
The list of 17 sites that was finally sent to McIntyre represented complete vindication. The presence of Yamal and Polar Urals had already been obvious from the Climategate emails, but the list showed that Briffa had also incorporated the Polar Urals update (which, as we saw above, did not have a hockey stick shape, and which Briffa claimed he had not looked at since 1995) and the Khadtya River site, McIntyre’s use of which the RealClimate authors had ridiculed.

Although the chronology itself was not yet available, the list of sites was sufficient for McIntyre to calculate the numbers himself, and the results were breathtaking. Firstly, the URALS regional chronology had vastly more data behind it than the Yamal-only figures presented in Briffa’s paper

But what was worse, the regional chronology did not have a hockey stick shape — the twentieth century uptick that Briffa had got from the handful of trees in the Yamal-only series had completely disappeared.

Direct comparison of the chronology that Briffa chose to publish against the full chronology that he withheld makes the point clear:

It seems clear then that the URALS chronology Briffa prepared to go alongside the others he put together for the 2008 paper gave a message that did not comply with the message that he wanted to convey — one of unprecedented warmth at the end of the twentieth century. In essence the URALS regional chronology was suffering from the divergence problem — the widely noted failure of some tree ring series to pick up the recent warming seen in instrumental temperature records, which led to the infamous ‘hide the decline’ episode.

Remarkably, however, Briffa did allude to the divergence problem in his paper:

These [regional chronologies] show no evidence of a recent breakdown in [the association between tree growth and temperature] as has been found at other high-latitude Northern Hemisphere locations.

The reason for dropping the URALS chronology looks abundantly clear. It would not have supported this message.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Under the heading "The Culture that is Japan", Evan Soltas posted this chart:
adding "Japan's disproportionate use of its .jp country code appears to be a digital reflection of very strong underlying cultural currents towards purity." However, several commentators jumped in to point out that this may be the result of population or GDP differences. So, I decided to run the numbers myself. I pulled the same raw data from ISC, and divided the number of domains by population and current GDP, as reported by the CIA World Factbook. Here's how the data holds up:

How well do liberals and conservatives understand each others' beliefs?:
Who is most accurate? It depends on the type of morality:
3a. Conservatives were most accurate about the individual-focused moral concerns of
either side, and liberals were least accurate.
3b. Moderates were most accurate about the group-focused moral concerns of either
side, and liberals were least accurate.
3c. Liberals exaggerate moral differences the most.
The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences across the Political Divide, by Jesse Graham, Brian A. Nosek, and Jonathan Haidt

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The impact of Obamacare starts to set in:
Recently, the Cook Medical company announced that it was canceling plans to open new factories because of the impending ObamaCare tax on medical device manufacturers scheduled to take effect in 2013. The 2.3% tax on total sales (not profits) will cost Cook $20 million dollars a year. As a result, the company will not be opening five plants that would have employed up to 300 people each.

Cook is not the only medical device company affected by the tax. Stryker (which makes artificial joints) will cut 5% of its workforce. Medtronic has announced the tax will cut into its investments in future products. Jonathan Rennert, chairman of Zoll Medical (which makes advanced cardiac defibrillators) has stated that the tax will mean “less innovation, fewer jobs, and fewer lives saved.”
More from the war on science:
Last week campaigner Luke Steele was sentenced to 18 months in jail for harassing staff at Harlan's laboratories. A second activist, Jonathan White, was given a seven-month sentence, suspended for 18 months. The pair, both aged 22, were members of a small group who terrorised staff at Harlan's three UK sites last year, using hailers to chant "shame on you", "blood on your hands" and "puppy killers" at employees queuing up in their cars to enter or leave their workplaces. They also claimed that animals in the centres were subject to "horrific neglect".

One female Harlan worker told the Observer: "When you arrived in the morning, you would have to queue for up to five minutes to get through the gates. Their loudhailers were deafening. They would scream at you that you were a puppy killer and would bang on your car. It was horrible. I was left shaking for hours afterwards."

A male colleague was equally affected: "It is part of their methodology to equate animal work with paedophilia. If they find out your name, you will appear on their website as a paedophile. It is disgusting." Another Harlan worker found out that his neighbours had all been sent notes claiming that he was a rapist.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ars Technica brings some silly sensationalist journalism. Mark Stanley and Jake Laperruque report Millions of Americans now fall within government's digital dragnet:
Until recently, average Americans could convince themselves they were safe from government snooping. Yes, the government engaged in warrantless wiretaps, but those were directed at terrorists. Yes, movies and TV shows featured impressive technology, with someone’s location highlighted in real time on a computer screen, but such capabilities were used only to track drug dealers and kidnappers.

Figures released earlier this month should dispel that complacency. It’s now clear that government surveillance is so widespread that the chances of the average, innocent person being swept up in an electronic dragnet are much higher than previously appreciated. The revelation should lead to long overdue legal reforms.

The new figures, resulting from a Congressional inquiry, indicate that cell phone companies responded last year to at least 1.3 million government requests for customer data—ranging from subscriber identifying information to call detail records (who is calling whom), geolocation tracking, text messages, and full-blown wiretaps.

Almost certainly, the 1.3 million figure understates the scope of government surveillance. One carrier provided no data. And the inquiry only concerned cell phone companies. Not included were ISPs and e-mail service providers such as Google, which we know have also seen a growing tide of government requests for user data.
First off, the data includes location tracking provided to 911. From AT&T's response:
Our Privacy Policy makes very clear that we will provide personal information to governmental agencies... To provide information regarding the caller's location to a public safety entity when a call is made to 911...
If AT&T's response is typical, a full 30% of the requests are a result of exigent requests, such as calls to 911.

Still, this is scary sounding, until you put it into a little context. 1.3 million wiretaps sounds like a lot, but in 2006, there were over 1.1 million people convicted of felonies in state courts alone in the US. Add in federal cases, cases where charges weren't brought, or were plea bargained down to misdemeanors, a one to one ratio of wiretaps to crimes really doesn't sound that far out of line. Also consider the possibility of over-counting-- does a request for text messages and voice calls on a cell phone count as two requests, or one? What about requests for historical call records, versus ongoing taps? What about instances where police have requested extensions on the duration of a wiretap, or for multiple phones for a single person, such as in the case of "burner" cells?

Most egregious, however, is this comment later in the article:
The only solution is to ensure that the government’s use of these tools is carefully focused. The best way to do that is to follow the standard in the Constitution and require the government to get a warrant from a judge before intruding in our lives.
(emph in original). First off, the Constitution doesn't actually require a warrant from a judge to conduct a search, it merely requires the search to be reasonable, and have probable cause. Secondly, if they bothered to look at the actual data provided by the cell phone companies, almost all of the requests did have subpoenas or orders/warrants, and weren't part of some mysterious NSA program.

Check your facts people.
A reminder on Bush v Gore:
If the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed Florida's courts to finish their abortive recount of last year's deadlocked presidential election, President Bush probably still would have won by several hundred votes, a comprehensive study of the uncounted ballots has found.

...As a result, under rules devised by the Florida Supreme Court and accepted by the Gore campaign at the time, Bush probably would have won a recount, the study found.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More from the war on science, social issues, edition:
The sociologist Mark Regnerus, at the University of Texas at Austin, is being smeared in the media and subjected to an inquiry by his university over allegations of scientific misconduct.

Regnerus's offense? His article in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research reported that adult children of parents who had same-sex romantic relationships, including same-sex couples as parents, have more emotional and social problems than do adult children of heterosexual parents with intact marriages. That's it. Regnerus published ideologically unpopular research results on the contentious matter of same-sex relationships. And now he is being made to pay.

In today's political climate, and particularly in the discipline of sociology—dominated as it is by a progressive orthodoxy—what Regnerus did is unacceptable. It makes him a heretic, a traitor—and so he must be thrown under the bus.

Regnerus's study was based on a nationally representative sample of adult Americans, including an adequate number of respondents who had parents with same-sex relationships to make valid statistical comparisons. His data were collected by a survey firm that conducts top studies, such as the American National Election Survey, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. His sample was a clear improvement over those used by most previous studies on this topic.
Over at the Morlock Revolt, they pointed out the latest Obama campaign poster. Well, the crack research staff here at SWR has been able to unearth the real version of that poster:

Copyright © Swing Right Rudie
A notebook to myself