I Was the Victim of a Series of Accidents

Kurt Klein “wonders how liberals rationalize a Secretary of the Treasury who cheated on his taxes ($34,000–oops! rounding error)”.  Well, here’s how I would do it.  Not that I’d necessarily want to be called a liberal:

Continue reading I Was the Victim of a Series of Accidents

Shared Links for Fri, Feb 6th, 2009 through Sat, Feb 7th, 2009

  • Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change – Guidelines from the Brookings Institute for the US and China to cooperatively address climate change and clean energy issues, without being combative. Executive summary sounds good, whole thing is 80 pages long. Given the positive economics for many energy efficiency measures, I thought there should have been a little more focus on the often erroneous assumption that addressing these issues has to be costly. (tagged: energy sustainability china policy climate efficiency brookings )
  • Amendment to Eliminate Bike Infrastructure in Stimulus – DeMint (R – SC) and Coburn (R – OK) are trying to kill all bike infrastructure investment in the stimulus package. Call them and your own senators and make sure it doesn't happen! (tagged: politics bicycle infrastructure policy transportation stimulus )
  • The Transparent Society – The essay that later became Brin's book of the same name, in which he argues that first, universal surveillance is coming, whether we like it or not, and second, that a world which is transparent – in which surveillance goes both (all) ways, is vastly preferable to one in which the illusion of privacy is maintained, and the powerful are the only ones with access to our information. (tagged: technology privacy transparency surveillance brin wired )
  • Make Love Not Porn – Hardcore (esp. internet) porn has unfortunately come (ha!) to substitute for sex-ed in our culture, so says Cindy Gallop. I think she has a point. And so she made this website, to try and point out the flawed generalizations that one might arrive at from being "educated" by online porn. I think it's worth noting also though, that the diversity of pornography on the web has steadily increased over time, and there's a lot of positive and realistic, and non-exploitive depiction of sex out there now, if you want to look for it. In particular Abby Winters, Beautiful Agony, and I Shot Myself come to mind. It's ironic (absurd?) that the site has an "18+ only" clickthrough on the front page. (tagged: porn sex love ted education )
  • Dept. of Energy to draft energy efficiency rules… 30 years late. – I can't believe I'd never heard of this. Apparently for the last 30 years, presidents have been refusing to direct the Dept. of Energy to draft enforceable energy efficiency regulations, despite being directed under law to do so by Congress. Finally in 2005, 14 states sued, and won, and Bush still failed to comply in a timely manner. How many other instances of the executive branch (both democrat and republican!) completely ignoring Congress on important issues are there? It's rare enough that Congress gets anything right – that the president should ignore them when they do is unconscionable! (tagged: politics policy energy nytimes green efficiency standards regulation )

Shared Links for Thu, Feb 5th, 2009

  • First annual Letter from the Gates Foundation – I hate Microsoft, but in the great American tradition of evil corporate fortunes being given back to good causes, the Gates Foundation works on some difficult, important, and interesting problems. I've been curious exactly how and why their focus on population has faded away over the last few years. Not sure this letter (suggested by and modeled after Warren Buffet… who doubled their endowment last year) really answers that question. I get the feeling that the change is partly for PR reasons – that they remain focused on the issue, but don't think it's really productive to make that statement prominently. (tagged: philanthropy health microsoft bill gates population )
  • WRI on Bus Rapid Transit v. Light Rail – Given the difference in cost, I really don't understand why BRT doesn't get more consistent consideration in transportation planning. Hopefully someone will notice this study (and hopefully the study is done well…) (tagged: transit transportation brt rail sustainability bus green )
  • Bill Gates unplugged – Talked about two problems: malaria, and lousy teaching in America. Not so interested in Malaria (we know what we need to do, we just don't really care… and if all it does is increase human population, is that really a success?), but our inability to make teaching work well reliably is really annoying… (tagged: education ted teaching schools bill gates )
  • Till Children Do Us Part – Yeah, having kids can keep you together… out of obligation, or desperation if you're an unemployable 50s housewife. But jeez, who ever thought they actually help a marriage? (tagged: children marriage love )
  • Dumping the Refrigerator for a Greener Planet – Well of course I *could* do without a fridge if I wanted to, but why not just get a super-efficient one, or understand better what *actually* needs refrigerated, or design a fridge that takes advantage of the outside temperature for condensing or evaporating coolant, or build an insulated north-facing root cellar into your earth-sheltered house, or use a zeer evaporative fridge, etc. Story seems a little one dimensional. (tagged: refrigerator energy sustainability green environment efficiency )
  • Extended Producer Responsibility – I wonder just how much of my predilection for German bike parts comes from their EPR policies, and how much comes from the German design ethos, and how separable those two things really are? (tagged: bike germany green sustainability recycling policy bicycle )

Energy efficiency portfolio standards needed

Implementing a national energy efficiency portfolio standard (EEPS) are just as important as, if not more important than renewable portfolio standards (RPS), and will go a long way toward making aggressive RPSs attainable, but aren’t getting much in the way of mindshare.  More info from the DoE, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).  EEPS are also a much cheaper (i.e. more profitable) way to cut carbon than current renewables.

Barnett’s Department of Everything Else

I first came across Thomas PM Barnett via his TED talk last year.  He’s an engaging speaker (PowerPoint performance artist might be more accurate), and he has interesting ideas about how globalization works, and what the US military’s role has been, is, and should be.  I’ve followed his blog on and off ever since.  I’m fascinated with him because a huge amount of what he says rings true, and unusually frank, but a little bit of it seems jarring. Last night I watched his full-length brief and took notes, to try and figure out what exactly it was that I disagree with.

Continue reading Barnett’s Department of Everything Else

What is the Fed doing?

Trying to keep track of all the shenanigans innovation going on at the Federal Reserve is difficult.  Econbrowser and Interfluidity among others have been trying to help…  but every time I read about how our money system works, I find my head spinning in incredulity.  And that’s just when I’m reading about how it’s “supposed” to work.  It’s been getting more confusing lately.

Continue reading What is the Fed doing?

Ideas for Change in America

Change.org is a kind of public idea tourament.  There are a bunch of different subsections: agricultural policy, government reform, energy, etc.  Readers vote and comment on the ideas, and the top few ideas in each category advance to the next round.  Larry Lessig has submitted Citizen Funding of Congressional Elections whereby only public money and small contributions can be applied toward election campaigns.

Not sure how well this kind of system can work.  Many of the highest rated ideas don’t sound very productive…

California Backstory Barcodes

California officials launch ‘Green Chemistry’ initiative – Los Angeles Times.

The idea is certainly good, but there’s a lot of bookkeeping that will need be done within the myriad supply chains that create the products, that isn’t getting done now.  Does California have enough clout to force it to be done?  Seems unlikely (even if we are the Nth largest economy on earth, where N is small).  Really we need to partner with the EU, and other like-minded bodies to come up with a single standard we can all adhere to.  This is the kind of thing the WTO should (for instance) be about.

PBS Tackles Global Warming: HEAT

I watched the PBS Frontline report Heat online.  It’s 2 hours long, and explores the magnitude and difficulty of scaling back global carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 (which is what the IPCC says is required).  To be a success in my mind, I think it had to do four things:

  1. Convey the colossal magnitude of the problem, essentially requiring a complete re-imagination of the engines literally driving the global economy: fossil fuels and ever expanding resource consumption, and cooperation between nations and corporations on a scale we’ve never seen.
  2. Describe the potential costs of inaction, including sea level rise, possibly rapid decreases in agricultural productivity in some areas, water shortages in the world’s most populous regions due to melting glaciers, and ultimately, the irreversibility of the changes, due to positive feedbacks.
  3. Explain how solving the problem is difficult, politically: due to effective lobbying from old and currently profitable industries, and the inability of tomorrow’s potentially profitable “green” industries to effectively lobby, because they don’t currently have either the billions in profits to “invest” in DC, or a large base of employees represented as constituents.  Economically: because there is no cost borne by GHG emitters, making the atmosphere a tragic economic commons.
  4. Provide at least an outline of what any potential solution will look like: It will have to be measured in terawatts, meaning the only two sources of power that are up to the task in the long run are solar and nuclear (with reprocessing and breeder reactors eventually).  It will also require a method of turning electricity into some transportable high energy density form, like liquid fuels, or much much better batteries.

Continue reading PBS Tackles Global Warming: HEAT

What is Human

The utter primacy of H. sapiens in all the theistic religions is one of the things that bothers me most deeply about them. I believe we are unique and unusually important amongst life on earth (as were the first oxygenic photosynthesizers, and the first eukaryotic organisms, and the first macroscopic multicellular life forms), but I don’t think that the earth without humans would be without value. Diminished, certainly, but still a precious place. By the same token, I think that we diminish the value of the earth by causing the extinction of other species.

I think this may actually be somewhat related to the abortion question, and the difficulty of coming to any kind of common ground on it. I don’t consider non-viable fetuses human, but to me that doesn’t mean they are without value, or undeserving of any kind of legal protections. I just don’t think those protections should be as extensive as our protections of humans.  People are resistant to the idea that “humanity” is a continuum.  Some might even say repelled by it, but it seems inescapable to me.  I also believe that severely mentally disabled people are “less” human, and that a brain-dead human is, for all intents and purposes, a cell culture with no more moral value than a side of beef.  This might seem like something we had better not talk about, since it starts off all kinds of slippery slopes to horrible places, but I think eventually, we will have no choice, because some time in the next few decades, or at most the next few centuries, we will be confronted with positive deviations as well as negative.

What will it mean to be human, when there exist super-humans?  When some portion of the population is genetically or cybernetically enhanced, will they have super-human rights, privledges, and responsibilities, or will they simply be more powerful through extra-legal means?

A person, even a politician, can stand up for human rights while condoning abortion if they do not consider the fetus human.  The core of the abortion argument is what does it mean to be human? Is it a discrete, or continuous classification?  Unless we can come to some consensus on these questions, the abortion issue, and many others, will remain vexing indefinitely.