Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 16 April 2012

I'm reading Chris Mooney's latest, The Republican Brain, which attempts to explain the differences between conservatives and liberals based on their psychological makeups. For instance, conservatism correlates negatively with openness but positively with conscientiousness. He also talks about episetemic closure, which psychology predicts (and we can observe) is far more likely on the right than on the left.

I plowed half-way through the book yesterday, and I expect to finish it on the plane Wednesday. As Jon Stewart would say, buy it, read it, it's on shelves now.

Monday 16 April 2012 15:13:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 15 April 2012

Transport analyst and writer Tom Vanderbilt has a four-part series in Slate about the crisis in American walking:

The United States walks the least of any industrialized nation. ... Why do we walk so comparatively little? The first answer is one that applies virtually everywhere in the modern world: As with many forms of physical activity, walking has been engineered out of existence. With an eye toward the proverbial grandfather who regales us with tales of walking five miles to school in the snow, this makes instinctive sense. But how do we know how much people used to walk? There were no 18th-century pedometer studies.

[S]ince our uncommon commitment to the car is at least in part to blame for the new American inability to put one foot in front of the other, the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian is all that much more pernicious. In modern traffic engineering the word has become institutionalized, by engineers who shorten pedestrian to the somehow even more condescending “peds”; who for years have peppered their literature with phrases like “pedestrian impedance” (meaning people getting in the way of vehicle flow).

As Vanderbilt says, traffic engineers and our obsession with the car have driven most of the problems. Even though engineer Charles Mahron and people like him crusade against the worst urban designs (see, e.g., Brainerd, Minn.), I don't think anything will change without a disruptive and permanent external shift. I don't really want $10 gas, but wow would that focus people's attention on driving.

Sunday 15 April 2012 09:20:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Friday 13 April 2012

At a client site all day, with about 10 minutes for lunch. Regular posting will resume Sunday.

Friday 13 April 2012 13:01:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Krugman explains:

Mr. Christie’s big move — the one that will define his record — was his unilateral decision back in 2010 to cancel work that was already under way on a new rail tunnel linking New Jersey with New York. At the time, Mr. Christie claimed that he was just being fiscally responsible, while critics said that he had canceled the project just so he could raid it for funds.

Now the independent Government Accountability Office has weighed in with a report on the controversy, and it confirms everything the critics were saying.

The governor asserted that the projected costs were rising sharply; the report tells us that this simply wasn’t true. The governor claimed that New Jersey was being asked to pay for 70 percent of a project that would shower benefits on residents of New York; in fact, the bulk of the financing would have come either from the federal government or from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which collects revenue from residents of both states.

But while it’s important to document Mr. Christie’s mendacity, it’s even more important to understand the utter folly of his decision. The new report drives home just how necessary, and very much overdue, the tunnel project was and is. Demand for public transit is rising across America, reflecting both population growth and shifting preferences in an era of high gas prices. Yet New Jersey is linked to New York by just two single-track tunnels built a century ago — tunnels that run at 100 percent of capacity during peak hours.

Someday—maybe five years from now, maybe ten—the Port Authority will have to resume the tunnel project. And then, it will be much more expensive, and much more dire.

Will people remember why?

Thursday 12 April 2012 21:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 12 April 2012

Connecticut's house has voted to repeal the death penalty, which will make the state the 17th to abolish it:

Senate Bill 280 cleared the House 86-62, a vote that broke largely along party lines. The bill now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign it, ending a form of punishment in the state that dates back to Colonial times when those convicted of being witches were sent to the gallows.

[S]upporters of the repeal effort say the state's death penalty is irrevocably broken — just one man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in the past 50 years, and that was after he waived his appeals. Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull who supported the repeal bill, called the current death penalty "a paper tiger."

Others pointed out that government is not infallible, and the chance, however slight, of an innocent person being executed is too grave a risk when the punishment is death.

And just a quick reminder, here are the jurisdictions that still have capital punishment: Belarus, China (PRC), Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States, Vietnam. We executed 46 people in 2010, putting us ahead of everyone in the world except China (over 4,000), Iran (252), North Korea (60), and Yemen (53). Great company to be in.

Oh, and thanks to a couple southern states, we're the only democracy that executes children.

Connecticut is making the right move. I hope the rest of the country follows suit.

Thursday 12 April 2012 09:55:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pauvre chat:

(Via Sullivan.)

Wednesday 11 April 2012 16:31:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 10 April 2012

I'd say he's performing about as expected:

Tuesday 10 April 2012 12:22:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Theories also have predictive value; that is, in order for a hypothesis to graduate to theorydom, it has to fit all the available facts and predict future events. You know, like anthropogenic climate change, which gets closer to being a true theory every day. For example, via Fallows, a paper written in 1981 seems to have predicted it pretty well:

Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the everyday pressures of research (falling ill helps). It was in this way we stumbled across Hansen et al (1981) (pdf). In 1981 the first author of this post was in his first year at university and the other just entered the KNMI after finishing his masters. Global warming was not yet an issue at the KNMI where the focus was much more on climate variability, which explains why the article of Hansen et al. was unnoticed at that time by the second author. It turns out to be a very interesting read.

[T]hey attribute global mean temperature trend 1880-1980 to CO2, volcanic and solar forcing. Most interestingly, Fig.6 (below) gives a projection for the global mean temperature up to 2100. At a time when the northern hemisphere was cooling and the global mean temperature still below the values of the early 1940s, they confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions. They assume that no action will be taken before the global warming signal will be significant in the late 1990s, so the different energy-use scenarios only start diverging after that.

And the band played on...

Tuesday 10 April 2012 11:56:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#

The FBI has put together a committee of university presidents to root out foreign spies who have infiltrated American colleges:

While overshadowed by espionage against corporations, efforts by foreign countries to penetrate universities have increased in the past five years, [Frank] Figliuzzi, [Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director for counterintelligence] said. The FBI and academia, which have often been at loggerheads, are working together to combat the threat, he said.

Attempts by countries in East Asia, including China, to obtain classified or proprietary information by “academic solicitation,” such as requests to review academic papers or study with professors, jumped eightfold in 2010 from a year earlier, according to a 2011 U.S. Defense Department report. Such approaches from the Middle East doubled, it said.

The problem with this, as a number of people pointed out in the article, is that academics share information freely. That's their freaking job. And the U.S. has hundreds of thousands of foreign students—76,000 from China alone—because, for now anyway, we have the best schools in the world.

Of course the FBI should go after real spies, and discovering former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Tretyakov probably prevented Russia from stealing information that would have helped them catch up to where we'd gotten ten years earlier.

The university presidents on the FBI's committee need to remember their first duty. I hope some of them will remind the FBI that suspecting lots of foreigners of trying to spy on us will cost more than it will save.

This is a very old conversation. There are always people who see enemies everywhere. Sometimes they're right; but we need to make sure that when they're wrong, they don't cause more damage than they're trying to prevent.

Tuesday 10 April 2012 10:40:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
Monday 9 April 2012

I like being busy, but it does take time away from lower-priority pursuits like blogging. If I had more time, I'd pontificate on the following:

For now, though, it's back to the mines.

Monday 9 April 2012 11:36:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links | Travel#
Sunday 8 April 2012

Mike Wallace: Now, you've watched this gate for many years, right?

St Peter: Yes, that's right.

MW: And do you decide who gets in the gates?

SP: Well...I mean, I don't make the final decisions, no...

MW: But you can, for example, send someone to the back of the line?

SP: That's...you know, that's not something that would be done. In some, rare cases, people decide to return to the end of the line on their own.

MW: Peter, come on. Did Carl Sagan go back on his own?

SP: Well, look...you know, Carl was...look, Carl was a special case, being an atheist and all. There wasn't a decision made or anything. He got to the gate and decided, you know, on his own I think, that he didn't want to go in.

MW: Well, we spoke to Carl a little while ago, and he said, I'm quoting here, "There were billions and billions of people in the line, and I had to walk past all of them after St. Peter turned me away." What do you think about that? Did you make Carl Sagan walk back to the end of a line containing billions of people?

SP: OK, you know, I'm not... Look, if a decision was made, it wasn't made by me. I don't make policy, I'm just the guy, you know, at the gate.

MW: Sagan went on to say that you said a couple of other things to him. Peter, did you call Carl Sagan a "dirty unbeliever" and an "apostate?"

SP: Now, wait, that's just... Look, I can't comment on that.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line?

SP: Mike, I'm sorry, I really can't answer that question.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line because he was an atheist?

MW (in studio): Peter ended the interview at that point. But still, we're left with the question, who decides who gets in? After repeated denials from the Trinity, we were able to speak to Metatron...

Sunday 8 April 2012 10:11:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Some items that have gotten my attention:

More, I'm sure, later.

Sunday 8 April 2012 08:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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