Thursday, May 29, 2008

So my friends over at culturemonkey must be sleeping, so I thought I'd help them out with this link to an NYTimes article on monkeys with robotic arms.

Also, Sharon Stone is a moron. Although, I do have to say that calling her the "public enemy of all mankind" shows pretty clearly what's wrong with Chinese media.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I think I do owe Zizek an apology for misrepresenting him in my blog. He doesn't discount ecological crisis in the essay that I linked to. He sees it as potentially catastrophic, while at the same time maintaining that humans cannot contemplate their own death in real terms. While I'm not sure I agree, this is not the egregious claim that I said it was. What Zizek sees as the "ideology" of ecology is, instead, the ways in which corporations can jump on the ecological bandwagon to improve their image and in which ecology can serve as a placeholder for all sorts of non-actions. But if this is the case, I have a serious problem with Zizek claiming that ecology is the new ideology. That claim seems to be more of Zizek's trademark hyperbole: ecology will be the new ideology until Zizek--like a cranky geriatric--finds some new phenomenon about which he can excoriate the world.

I have a lot of problems with Zizek. I think he severely misrepresents ecology, for one. But his argument that ecology is the new ideology is not also an argument that ecological crises don't exist, which is basically what I accused him of saying.

I'm not going to erase my critique either, because I do think that some on the left use the critique of ecology as ideology as an excuse to dismiss ecology.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thanks (I think, at least in part) to my promptings, has also responded to Freeman Dyson's article.
Realclimate also has a review of the Freeman Dyson review.
In the newest issue of The New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson has an incredibly frustrating article on a couple pieces of global warming literature. Pretending to have transcended the controversy by taking the completely chimerical "middle ground," Dyson reviews two books on global warming policy, A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies by William Nordhaus and Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto, edited by Ernesto Zedillo. Dyson spends most of the article reviewing the Nordhaus book, which uses a mathematical model called the Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) to look at the economic impact of various global warming policies: Kyoto Protocols, "business-as-usual," meaning non-action, "optimal policy," which consists in "a worldwide tax on carbon emissions adjusted each year to give the maximum aggregate economic gain as calculated by DICE," Al Gore's plan of gradual reductions in emissions, and Nicholas Stern's legal framework to pose strict limitations on carbon emissions. Nordhaus finds that while the "optimal policy" would lead to a 3 trillion dollar gain over the do-nothing approach (over a hundred year period) and the Kyoto Protocols to a 1 trillion dollar gain, the Gore and Stern policies would lead to 15-20 trillion dollar losses.
Dyson accepts Nordhaus's conclusion, and takes the next step of suggesting that technology, specifically bio-technology, will answer all our prayers. We will develop carbon-eating plants that can be controlled, which will lead to a drastic reduction in carbon, the opening of multiple new markets, and peace and prosperity for all. For me, the main problem of Nordhaus's argument is not even suggested in Dyson's reading. Dyson tells us that Nordhaus uses a simple economic measurement of dollar growth over time, to show that, in a hundred years, the dollar will increase in value a certain amount, and that each dollar spent today to save us from global warming has to be able to justify itself against its future value.
For example, the value of one dollar invested at an average interest rate of 4 percent for a period of one hundred years would be fifty-four dollars; this owuld be the future value of one dollar in one hundred years' time. Therefore, for every dollar spent now on a particular strategy to fight global warming, the investmetn must reduce the damage caused by warming by an amount that exceeds fifty-four dollars in one hundred years' time to accrue a positive economic benefit to society.
The assumption here is that global warming is not catastrophic, even if Dyson claims the opposite when he tells us that "The great virtue of Nordhaus's economic analysis is that it remains valid whether the majority [i.e., those who believe that global warming is potentially catastrophic] view is right or wrong." Yes and no. Nordhaus's model could continue to apply even if global warming were potentially catastrophic, but we would have to take two further things into account--first, the value of a dollar-investment would shrink rather than grow. The fact that the value of the dollar-investments would shrink means that spending now would be significantly more important than long-term money-making investment. This is why short-selling works: if you know something is going to crash in the future, it is better to be profligate now. Second, and this is related, if global warming is catastrophic, then Nordhaus needs to calculate the human costs of allowing global warming to continue. Nordhaus's conclusions are utterly dependent upon the absence of catastrophic global warming.

Dyson's review of the second book is little more than an opportunity for him to give us sound bytes about why global warming shouldn't be taken as seriously as it is. The quotes he takes from Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto all emphasize "Global Warming: the Myth": "Actual observations suggest that the sensitivity of the real climate is much less than that found in computer models whose sensitivity depends on processes that are clearly misrepresented." Really? Like the actual heating of the earth due to carbon in the atmosphere? That must just be an oversensitive model. Also, "Climate change may not be the world's most pressing problem (as I am convinced it is not)." In other words, Dyson takes quotes out of the Kyoto book only in order to "cast doubt" on the seriousness of global warming. He hastily dismisses the UK's stance as "mere" politics:
Howard Dalton, spokesman for the British government, is the most dogmatic... The United Kingdom has made up its mind and takes the view that any individuals who disagree with government policy should be ignored. This dogmatic tone is also adopted by the Royal Society, the British equivalent of the US National Academy of Sciences.
This is how Dyson turns the issue from one of science to one of politics, where he clearly falls in the libertarian camp. Notice the use of "government policy" as a phrase to distract us from global warming and focus our attention on government and its top-down, anti-democratic policies.
The final paragraphs are the most frustrating, because this is where Dyson firmly pretends to be above the controversy. The most laughable lines in the entire essay are the following:
All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific.
Up to now, I had been following Dyson, disagreeing at times, but keeping my ears open for new information. Slavoj Zizek recently made a similar claim that ecology "is the ideal candidate for hegemonic ideology." Both arguments entirely miss the point. For Dyson and Zizek alike, the fear of global warming catastrophe distracts us from more important issues. For Zizek, this is invariably class struggle and the fight against capitalism. For Dyson, it is "bigger" issues:
Many of the [global warming] skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice.
Dyson, a nuclear activist, probably sees the first hazard as the most significant one. What is not recognized by either Zizek or Dyson is that the global warming catastrophe, if it were to occur, would exacerbate social injustice and render class struggle secondary to the struggle for life. Joseph Romm, an environmental researcher and author of the blog of suggests that at levels between 800 to 1000 PPM of carbon in the atmosphere, we would see a "sea level rise of 80 to 250 feet at a rate of 6 inches a decade"; "desertification of one third of the planet and drought over half the planet"; and "70% of all species going extinct plus extreme ocean acidification." Unlike people like Dyson, Romm sees this as entirely possible because, at 550 PPM, a great deal of the permafrost in the arctic tundra would melt, letting loose a great deal of the carbon trapped under that permafrost, leading to rapid growth in the level of carbon in the atmosphere.
With these conditions, it is a safe bet to say that those nations with great deals of wealth would be far more likely to be able to build things like industrial-sized greenhouses, levies, and weather-proofed housing that would protect them, to a greater degree, from the ravages of climate change. Those in the poorer nations and island nations would be far more unable to protect themselves from famine and flooding. The problem with people like Zizek and Dyson is that, much like their conservative counterparts, they view environmentalism as something that is fundamentally sentimental. Environmentalists are, as Dyson tells us, a religious lot, who believe in the sacredness of the earth and humanity's duty of stewardship. Unlike us hard-headed, economics-minded realists (or, in Zizek's case, us critical, unsentimental leftists), environmentalists get weepy about polar bears and owls and have meditation sessions in the woods. What they don't recognize is that environmentalists also think about class struggle, social injustice, and economic efficiency, but they realize that in certain limit-cases, all those things can be thrown out the window.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

So I thought of a painting that, if I could paint, I would. It would be a mid-range shot of two sunbathing, Los Angelino sixty-somethings, man and woman, overweight, greying, and wearing striped sunbathing outfits. They would have on eclipse glasses. It would be titled "Waiting for the Apocalypse." It might look something like this, but more pastel, and I think the man would be more heavy-set and perhaps shirtless.
"At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt!" - John "Straight Talk Express" McCain in front of reporters, in 1992, to his wife Cindy, after she had teased him about his thinning hair. It's a good thing that Republicans have such strong family values. Where would we be without them? (The quote is taken from the recent New York Review of Books article, "Who is John McCain?" by Michael Tomasky).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So I just figured out why wealthy people are lying whenever they tell you that 50% of their income goes to the government, and the reason is not tax shelters. Here's how it works. There are a few major forms of taxation: income tax, capital gains tax, property tax. The taxes that we should focus on are the first two. Income tax for the wealthiest people is between 30 and 35 per cent of income. On top of that, people with long-term investments pay capital gains tax, wherein another 10 to 20 per cent of their investments are taxed. Now here's where the casuistry comes in. Because the people do not remove their long-term investments, they don't count them as part of their income. But they are making money off of these investments, and that's why these investments are taxed. So when these people talk about their taxes, they include both capital gains and income. However, when they talk about their income, they are only referring to salary- or wage-income. Thus, yes, their taxes amount to somewhere around 50% of their salary- or wage-income, but they're feeding you a load of horse shit when they tell you that this is their total income. Now, if you factor in tax shelters, you'll probably find even more discrepancy, but I couldn't begin to explain those to you.
Then as they started using the leadership lessons of Hitler, which was a fairly regular thing, at that point, I said, "This group has got some problems." I would say [...] "Guys, don't you have a problem with Hitler?" And they would say, "Well, it's not his ends we admire, it's his means." has an interview with Jeff Sharlett, author of the new book The Family about a low-profile religious organization boasting members such as Ed Meese, Jesse Helms, and the PM of Norway. Their doctrine is quasi-Christian, but they believe that Christ had it wrong: Christianity should not try to preach to the poor; rather, it should start with the rich and powerful, and allow them to disseminate Christianity, and they believe that Blitzkrieg politics (i.e., "Hitler's means, as opposed to his ends") are the best way to run society.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some moderately good news for those suffering in Myanmar: the government has decided to allow some aid groups into the country.
So for those that are still in denial, there is no oil bubble. Prices are going to continue to rise as long as India and China (and Vietnam and Iran and South Korea and...) continue to develop. Paul Krugman, for one, sees a silver lining:
The consequences of that scarcity probably won’t be apocalyptic: France consumes only half as much oil per capita as America, yet the last time I looked, Paris wasn’t a howling wasteland. But the odds are that we’re looking at a future in which energy conservation becomes increasingly important, in which many people may even — gasp — take public transit to work.

I don’t find that vision particularly abhorrent, but a lot of people, especially on the right, do. And so they want to believe that if only Goldman Sachs would stop having such a negative attitude, we’d quickly return to the good old days of abundant oil.
Rampant speculation is not driving the price of oil; rampant consumption is. And if you need more proof...

When I'm canvassing (my depressing minimum-wage job this summer), I get a lot of people who believe that the next President might help lower the price of oil, and they always look at me as though I should feel sorry for them because they drive an Escalade and have to pay for escalating gas prices. Boo fucking hoo.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The bad news is that wildlife populations are "plummeting" due to things like farming, pollution, and over-farming and hunting.
Humans are wiping out about 1% of all other species every year, and one of the "great extinction episodes" in the Earth's history is under way...
The good news is that when we run out of animal species to eat, we have an immediate answer for overpopulation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

One of the more ingenious things I've seen in a while is what is being done by Hasan Elahi. Hasan was on the terror watchlist in 2002, and even after he had been cleared, the FBI refused to take his name off of the list. In response, Hasan has set up a website in which he tracks his whereabouts every single day, takes photos of where he goes to the bathroom, what he eats, where he is sitting, etc. (see link above). Colbert had him on the show earlier this week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Et tu Brute

First he endorses Obama, now Robert Reich, the former labor secretary under President Clinton, smears HRC for her stupid gas tax idea, going so far as to compare her to Bush.
When asked this morning by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos if she could name a single economist who backs her call for a gas tax holiday this summer, HRC said "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists.”... In case you’ve missed it, we now have a president who doesn’t care what most economists think. George W. Bush doesn’t even care what scientists think. He rejects all experts who disagree with his politics. This has led to some extraordinarily stupid policies.
Reich has gone from being just another intellectual who writes popular books explaining why the world is fucked up to being my favorite intellectual writing popular books explaining why the world is fucked up.

Friday, May 9, 2008

"We were built for battle! We were created for the conflict! We get off on warfare!" Unfortunately, I don't believe that this will be as controversial as the Reverend Wright scandal, but McCain's pastor, Rod Parsley, wants us to destroy Islam, "Satan's religion." He claims that America was created with the express purpose of defending the world against Islam.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Speaking of markets, I've just discovered the "Pre-Market Economy," "one of the youngest and most rapidly growing economies" in the Western Hemisphere.
It is no surprise to me that children have developed their own economic system. I believe that us adults could learn something from these little scamps. Have you ever been at a board meeting and had your mind wander back to the days of the lemonade stand? In what way is selling, say, viagra like selling lemonade? Let your mind wander on that for a moment. You see? So many connections! Just read this recent company report - A bajillionty dollars - not since ENRON have we seen numbers that good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

So has a special user-generated feature where they take 15-second clips from the program and show them out of context. Here's one on advertising to monkeys. I was always of the opinion that we had a giant untapped market, if only someone could figure out how to get them to buy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

So we all know that Hillary's gasoline excise-tax elimination promise was completely idiotic. It turns out to have also been political capital for Obama (thanks to Gerry for pointing me to this):

This late in the election, the candidates are grasping at straws.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

So, for those of you that don't know, Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's former Secretary of Labor and author of the book Supercapitalism, has decided to endorse Barack Obama for president (it's the April 18 entry). It's too bad this hasn't received as much attention as the Jeremiah Wright affair., my new favorite website, has him discussing the endorsement with left-leaning economist Glenn Loury, author of Anatomy of Racial Inequality, among other books. I haven't watched it yet, but it looks promising, especially because one of the topics of discussion is "An economist and a labor secretary on how to fix the economy." Hopefully, they wrap it up quickly and let us get on to more pressing issues like who's going to win American Idol.