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Links 12/18/10

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How Green Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree? You Might Be Surprised New York Times. My favorite fake tree was a tinsel tree when we lived in Boston and that year, real trees were pretty much impossible to obtain. Tinsel trees were not included in this study (and since this type is quite the antique, it has probably recouped whatever environmental damage it has caused). I also wonder whether the green v. fake tree calculations include the cost of transporting and disposing of real trees each year. But the flip side is colored plastic is a terrible material from an environmental standpoint.

‘Bad Santa’ sends message to Harrods It’s Rude to Stare (hat tip reader Martin W)

Tuberculosis thriving in ‘Victorian’ London, says expert Guardian (hat tip reader May S)

BaQa’—or Is It Humbug? Aliens Attack a Holiday Classic Wall Street Journal. For my taste, this item has higher oddball value.

Signs of the apocalypse FakeSteve

Your Apps Are Watching You Wall Street Journal

QCut Scott Aaronson. Guess which agency is first on the list of a Republicans budget cut initiative….

US envoy Bill Richardson warns of Korea tinderbox BBC

Looming excess capacity in getting you smashed and Chinese statistics John Hempton

13M get unexpected tax bill from Obama tax credit Raw Story

Can Either James Kwak or Mark Thoma Build This Model? Ken Houghton, Angry Bear

In Tax-Cut Capitulation, House Democrats Again Redefine Pathetic Jon Walker, FireDogLake

Germany is not the only one facing backlash for EU bailout Ed Harrision

Reality cheques in cyberspace Gillian Tett, Financial Times

Gold-Dispensing ATM Makes U.S. Debut in Fla. CBS (hat tip reader May S)

Explaining the Crisis With Dogma Joe Nocera, New York Times

ECB Fixed-Term Deposits for Dummies Alea. Wow, Alea got ditched from FT Alphaville’s blogroll over this.

Reuter’s Bad Arguments on Structural Unemployment, America as Sick Man Mike Konczal. I was able to read only two pages of the Reuters piece (ten pages in total) before concluding it would make anyone reading it less well informed than before they strated, so I’m glad Konczal had the intestinal fortitude to take it apart, as did Dean Baker: Reuters Invents “Structural” Unemployment in the Absence of Any Evidence

Bethink Yourselves!”: An Ancient Voice Raised Against Modern Evil Chris Floyd

Antidote du jour:

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 4.05.45 AM

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36 comments

  1. KFritz

    ‘Bad Santa’ showed initiative and ingenuity to make his point. Especially after two bottles of grog. Somebody someplace ought to be able to put his talents to use, if he can be dried out.

    ‘Bad Santa’ also makes an interesting contrast to Nocera’s gentle, tactful assessment of ‘Republicans Gone Bonkers.’

  2. jck

    Thank you for the link.
    Isn’t it amazing that you can get ditched off the blogroll of a “serious” financial blog for pointing out a gross mistake, one where two of their staff wrote an astonishing piece of nonsense because they couldn’t tell the difference between an asset and a liability.
    So pathetic, I have to laugh, certainly the credibility of FTAV is gone to 0 in my book.

  3. attempter

    Re Obama tax SNAFU:

    The Internal Revenue Service reported that the average tax refund was $2,892 in the 2010 filing season, up from $2,663 in 2009. However, the number of refunds dropped by 3.5 percent, to 93.3 million.

    The audit says the Making Work Pay credit could have been a factor in the reduced number of refunds……

    Hmm, the number of refunds is down but the average refund is up. I suppose the way this credit was set up “could have been a factor”, but I bet it’s not among the most important.

    “This provision was specifically intended to help taxpayers through the severe economic downturn by putting more money into their hands right away, in each paycheck,” wrote Richard Byrd, commissioner of the agency’s wage and investment division.

    Heckuva job. I guess making it a deduction would’ve been too much for Obama. That would be further in the direction of acknowledging that this is the productive people’s money in the first place, rather than the elites’ money which Obama condescended to trickle back down to them.

    Re Fannie and Freddie:

    According to Nocera the Republicans want to kick out the last props under this zombie mortgage market:

    They have also, though, served a critical purpose. With the private mortgage market essentially broken, virtually every mortgage made in America, postcrisis, has required a guarantee from Fannie, Freddie or the Federal Housing Administration. With the banks unwilling to make mortgage loans on their own, you simply cannot buy a house in America today without Fannie and Freddie’s help…

    The solutions they offered were nice-sounding but impractical — “Re-establish a housing financial market that has long-term stability in which private capital is the primary source of mortgage financing” — and utterly in denial about the fact that it’s the private market that has gone AWOL. Just as the market failed during the bubble, so it is now failing again.

    So I guess it’s not all downside with them.

    Somebody tell Nocera the news: “The market” as the NYT knows and loves it has failed. Definitively. Once and for all. The sooner we’re completely rid of it, the better.

  4. RBM411

    On the Christmas Trees:

    I think many people would be stunned at how many real trees they purchase at stands are grown locally. Add to that the huge boon to local farmers in suburban/rural areas that have grown quite the agri-tourism “Cut your own tree” business.

    From an environmental standpoint, people from New York should get out to the farm sometime. Christmas trees are a renewable crop. Plant 1200 trees year 1 replace all taken plus some year two…. on and on. It’s not like people are tramping around the woods and clear cutting virgin forests.

  5. DownSouth

    Re: “Explaining the Crisis With Dogma Joe Nocera, New York Times”

    Joe Nocera said:

    The only problem with Mr. Wallison’s theory is that it’s not, as they say, reality-based.

    [….]

    What is most troubling is that the Republicans are going to try to create new policy based on Mr. Wallison’s analysis.

    How did we get to the point where factual reality counts for nothing?

    Politicians (and Republicans certainly don’t have a monopoly on this) can take something they said last week, last month or last year and turn it on its head, and no one seems to even notice, much less object. Economists, who claim to be scientists, can create historical accounts—-Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz’ A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 is about as good example as any—-that are little more than massive compilations of distortions, half-truths and outright lies, and no one challenges this. And historians themselves engage in the worst sort of historical revisionism, butchering factual reality to make it conform to whatever the political exigency happens to be. A good example of this is the way the story of the fall of the Roman Empire has been rewritten to conform to the political needs of the European Union, as Bryan Ward-Perkins highlights in The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization:

    The European Union needs to forge a spirit of cooperation between the once warring nations of the Continent, and it is no coincidence that the European Science Foundations’ research project into this period was entitled ‘The Transformation of the Roman World’—-implying a seamless and peaceful transition from Rome times to the ‘Middle Ages’ and beyond. In this new vision of the end of the ancient world, the Roman empire is not ‘assassinated’ by Germanic invaders; rather, Romans and Germans together carry forward much that was Roman, into a new Romano-Germanic world. ‘Latin’ and ‘Germanic’ Europe is at peace.

    The European Union’s historians would make the Nazi historians proud. But there is nothing unusual or unique about the sort of “history” created out of whole cloth by the European Union’s historians. Given today’s moral and intellectual diet, this is everyday fare. The rot seems to be complete.

    “[W]e are almost all Nietzscheans,” Michael Allen Gillespie writes in Nihilism before Nietzsche. As Gillespie explains:

    Near the end of the nineteenth century Nietzsche proclaimed, “Nihilism stands at the door,” and asked, “Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” He believed that he had discovered the answer to this question in the fact that “God is dead.” …

    Nihilism, according to Nietzsche, is the consequence of the fact that God and all eternal truths and standards become unbelievable. The highest values devalue themselves. The pursuit of truth reveals that there is no unequivocal truth.

    [….]

    The death of God, according to Nietzsche, leads to a world in which everything is permitted. The great wars and totalitarian experiments of our century have borne an all too faithful witness to Nietzsche’s prescience and we have consequently come to accept his explanation of the origin and meaning of nihilism as correct.

    But Gillespie believes Nietzsche got it wrong:

    Contrary to Nietzsche’s account, nihilism is not the result of the death of God but the consequence of the birth or rebirth of a different kind of God, an omnipotent God of will who calls into question all of reason and nature and thus overturns all eternal standards of truth and justice, and good and evil.

    [….]

    We moderns have…increasingly come to understand ourselves as subjects opposed to a hostile world that must be conquered and subordinated to our will.

    [….]

    [T]he idea of human freedom as freedom from nature…becomes increasingly predominant in modernity. (emphasis Gillespie’s) Descartes laid the groundwork for such a radical notion of human freedom, but he did not develop it explicitly. This task was accomplished by Rousseau.

    Rousseau came to see freedom as the capacity of the will to transcend nature. He accords to man the same type of freedom that Christianity attributed to God. Man, too, can begin a chain of causality without the necessity of a prior natural cause. The rationality of this freedom, however, seems to consist in little more than abstract generality, and in practice this generality seems to be merely a momentary determination of the will. Thus, with Rousseau and Hume the caprice that both rationalism and empiricism sought to exclude reappears in the innermost citadel of modern reason as the foremost principle of the human heart.

    [….]

    Jacobi consequently locates the source of nihilism not in the diminution of the will but in its magnification, in the doctrine of an absolute human will and freedom.

    This may sound a little trite, but it seems to me that much of what Gillespie is arguing can be summed up with this.

    Politicians, historians and scientists (and social scientists seem to be especially guilty of this) have made of factual reality and nature a plaything. They believe they can mold them like play putty. I suspect, however, that there are limits to this, and that at some point the “eternal standards of truth and justice, and good and evil” may return with a vengeance.

    1. attempter

      But Gillespie believes Nietzsche got it wrong:

      Contrary to Nietzsche’s account, nihilism is not the result of the death of God but the consequence of the birth or rebirth of a different kind of God, an omnipotent God of will who calls into question all of reason and nature and thus overturns all eternal standards of truth and justice, and good and evil.

      Sounds like it’s Gillespie who gets Nietzsche wrong. Contrary to G’s static depiction, N’s concept of nihilism was precisely this active overturning (among other things).

      The most sustained discussion is Genealogy of Morals Essay 3, whose leading idea is: “Man would rather will nothingness than not will at all.”

      Similarly, regarding this different kind of god, N said many times in many ways that “God is Dead”, and the death of the authority of religion, does not mean the death of the religious impulse, which must now find other outlets.

      That’s why he regarded nihilism as being so potent a wellspring for creativity or destruction: So much will to power which had been bound up in religion and whatever secular authority was associated with it would now be set free to seek a new object.

      He hoped with his writings to contribute to an outcome which would be more creative than destructive.

      Also, N didn’t think the will could “transcend nature”. Indeed, he regarded that way of framing the question as tendentious, and not even wrong. (The same with whether or not the will is “free” or “unfree”.)

      Rather, he described how the will always defines “according to nature” in a self-serving way. Our concepts of nature will always be reifications intended to serve our purposes. Cf Beyond Good and Evil section 9 for a basic discussion.

      1. Paul Repstock

        Why do you guys have to get so deep and convoluted about it? In doing so you fall into the microscope trap.

        In simple terms: the world, no matter how complex, cannot function without trust. Natural laws have an almost arithmetic symplicity. These are not based on religion, rather religions are based on Natural transactional Laws. And organized system cannot function if the members have no understanding (logic function) of a reward/punishment matrix.

      2. craazyman

        youze guys, there you go again. :-*

        Nietzche was a lunatic and a metaphysician.

        Albert Camus was far more cogent on the 20th century, although he had the advantage of living in it, not just channeling it up like Nietzche.

        In “The Rebel”, Camus’ divided socially genocidal crimes into crimes of Logic and crimes of Passion. In history, one could argue that great wars and massacres were crimes of passion. They were the eventual result of conflict, the product of unrestrained human nature, but not the initial goal.

        In the 20th century, Camus observed, the great crimes became pre-planned crimes of Logic — the calculating and strategic holocausts and genocides that cleared the land for one tribe or the other, justified by reference to some sort of ideal justice that, Messiah-like, was always about to arrive and atone for everything.

        This of course is the primary analytical framework now-days — crimes of logic. Every great social maladay has a puppeteer behind it, rationalizing its necessity for some greater and higher ideal, and the main agents are willing puppets of some sort of political or economic theology. Maybe this is a sub-set of passion even. Humans are soo stupid. Soo stupid. I’m not making a lot of sense, but I’m distracted right now.

  6. purple

    I’m not sure it matters (in terms of argument) if we have structural unemployment or not – if so, just retrain people and fix the underwater mortgage problem. Use logic.

  7. otto

    Sorry Yves, the ‘Bad Santa’ story is a spoof. It was run by “the poke” a fake news site ‘a la onion’

  8. Sufferin' Succotash

    The idea that the Roman Empire didn’t “fall” but was “transformed” has been pretty thoroughly aired among historians of late antiquity for at least 25 years now.
    Like most interpretations of that period it’s misleading(at least for lay people) because its shorthand version skates over the 1000+ year survival of the Eastern(Byzantine)Empire.
    That fact has always been an embarrassment for polemicists seeking to use “the decline & fall of the Roman Empire” as an excuse for axe-grinding thinly disguised as a cautionary tale. For that matter, even Edward Gibbon (the grand-daddy of the subject) wasn’t at his best when dealing with the Byzantines–if (in his view) Christianity caused the empire’s decline, how do you explain the survival of its most Christianized half, etc., etc..
    The Western half did fall, of course. Did the barbarians assassinate it? It certainly looks that way if you consult those standard history textbook maps showing all those arrows labeled “Visigoths”, “Vandals”, “Sueves” etc., slashing into imperial-colored real estate. If you were poor Romulus Augustulus in the year 476 it certainly would have looked that way. But considering the speed with which provincial imperial elites on the local level and the barbarian newcomers mutually assimilated, “assassination” seems like a misnomer. Imperial authority as a whole didn’t fall but was pushed at the very end, but all it took was a nudge.

  9. scraping_by

    @DownSouth

    How did we get to the point where factual reality counts for nothing?

    A good answer to that question is found in John Dean’s Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches. There his reporting is how the Republicans rule, and abusing process is a large part of how they operate. It’s not just loophole diving, or effrontery, or crow psychology, or unrestrained advocacy, but actual rule breaking and law breaking. It exists on a continuum, and how far they’ll go depends on how far they need to go.

    This specific case of blame the government is just classic Big Lie technique. Any connection to government is guilt of everything. Condense, yell, and repeat until everyone gets disgusted and goes home.

    Dean never makes the leap that an elitist philosophy inevitably becomes class warfare against the middle class (the poor being good allies for the rich), but never mind. Standing for values of common sense, mutual respect, and even handedness makes him dangerously Progressive enough. It’s refreshing to look into the work of people who, on the surface, would be an opponent, and find that you share important principals.

    1. Sufferin' Succotash

      As Harold Laski once put it, “when the rules of the game are insufficient for victory, the gentlemen of England change the rules”.
      Upper classes are almost invariably contemptuous of rules.
      Rules are for peasants.

      1. Paul Repstock

        Yep..And see what that did for the British Empire. When the colonials (including expat brits) understood that the game was rigged, and that even their contributions were irrelevant, except in some perverted image game, then there was nolonger any sense of purpose to Empire.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      I’ve encountered frequent shutdowns on my first attempt there but no malware that I’m aware of. It’s probably just the NSA, DHS, FBI, CIA, or DoJ. He has noted several denial of service attacks, as I think he’s getting under the emperor’s skin like an Alabama tick.

      The linked article: “‘Bethink Yourselves!’: An Ancient Voice Raised Against Modern Evil” is awesome brain and soul food, with amazingly pertinent posthumous commentary from Tolstoy on our sorry state of military madness. We have met the evil empire, and it is us.

      Floyd includes a link to help Bradley Manning who is currently in torturous solitary confinement without charges for resisting the Fourth Reich.

  10. attempter

    I met a girl down at the disco.
    She said hey, hey, hey yea let’s go.
    I could be your baby, you can be my honey
    Let’s spend time not money.
    I mix your milk wit my cocoa puff,
    Milky, milky cocoa,
    Mix your milk with my cocoa puff, milky, milky riiiiiiight.

  11. K

    Yves, thank you so much for the link to Fake Steve. However, the best thing I found after following the link was the not the link about signs of the apocalypse but the previous post about religion. I work for an arm of a large domestic US church body (i’m not a believer, just there for the paycheck) and that hit the nail squarely on the head.

    The people serving in a leadership capacity where I work are all smart people, so I know they could get the message right if they wanted to. Today we have a problem with belief trumping facts. That’s what caused the current financial crisis and what has lengthened it as well. Belief trumping facts is a problem in so many segments of our population, not just the Republican Party.

    The real question this raises is how do we train people to set their beliefs aside and actually act on the facts? I’m not saying brainwash people against religion but teach them how to learn and think critically. Teach the vast majority of the population to be rational thinkers instead of emotional basket cases who buy into any myth, lie, or falsehood that fits with their preconceived prejudices and biases. If we can accomplish that, it would do more for the human race than curing cancer, going to Mars, ridding ourselves of nuclear weapons, stopping global warming, or saving the whales.

  12. Chris Lahaie

    Jim I hope you are right about folks not being fooled. I am not as convinced when I see how often the banks are getting bailed out. This time they seem to have taken over the treasury.

  13. Francois T

    Re: QCut Guess which agency is first on the list of a Republicans budget cut initiative….

    Yves,

    That an avowed enemy of the State like Eric Cantor (How else do you call someone ready to help a foreign country against his own President?) wants to target the National Science Foundation cannot be surprising.

    He’s acting out, driven by his ideological bullshit. He and the rest of the GOP doesn’t want anyone to know this:

    2. Science: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting: NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

    Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle. This research finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”

    The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane. Methane is is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!

    The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“). Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below). No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

    The NSF is normally a very staid organization. If they are worried, everybody should be.

    It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.

    Warning: If you think this is bad, read the rest of the article here and weep for your children and those who will come after them.

    1. Skippy

      By the time most figure out the difference between weather and climate we will be on a narrow road methinks.

      Skippy…thanks for the link T.

    2. Paul Repstock

      Francois. much as I respect your posting generally, I think you have swallowed the “blue pill” on this one. The Artic has warmed and cooled before without the results you envision. Why would this type of “news” be any more credible than the news one anything else today. The climate change hysteria feeds straight into Cap and Trade, which is certainly a strategy of the New World Order.

      I kived in the North when I was young. 50 years ago I saw the methane bubbles trapped under the ice, which were recently reported as a new development…

      1. Skippy

        Paul with respect, 50 odd years is not a scientific bar, nor is “has warmed and cooled” in human historical observation.

        What is so difficult in understanding that before “us” that beasts roamed this world and dined, drank, expunged and procreated although they did not consume the world other than to live.

        Where we though our ability on an average 70kg person, make even the most voracious dinosaur envious in comparison.

        Skippy…Shall we use market RAR type models to divine the unknown.

        PS. I enjoy your humanistic musings but, feel your out of your depth on matters of science.

        1. Paul Repstock

          Skippy my academic and cognative limitations are well known and self confessed. My limits are so narrow I need to confine myself to empirically observable data and have difficulty viewing objects like the following as “science”:

          //The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane. Methane is is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!//

          I guess it was my own fault for taking up Francois’ red herring post.

          1. Paul Repstock

            At the risk of being even more tedious, I would like to point out that my disputes are as much with the political reactions as they are with the bad science. Remember that buried with the Cap and Trade legislation are provisions which would tax all vehicular traffic by requiring GPS transponders whether these vehicles are powered by hydrocarbons or water??

            Perhaps someone here has the time to view the following and give me help critiquing the methodology of this ‘non expert’ analysis. I thought it was very good. Perhaps I was wrong.

            http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/01/catastrophe-denied-the-science-of-the-skeptics-position.html?gclid=CK3r_-L09KUCFQQFbAodEDV8oQ

          2. Skippy

            Personally I don’t get sucked into the mosh pit of yea or nay on man-made / influenced global climate fracas…to polemic. Nor am I swayed by a handful of blogs on any matter either, I like to do my own homework.

            My informed theory is the result of many decades of study, first hand observation (again decades of revisiting sites) and personal experience on the ground with numerous human activates ie mining, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, hydrology, processing facility’s of all description, to whit I have not fallen into the *microscope* in some dark room.

            The vagary’s of politics and wealth creation are an aside (cap & trade et al), human activity has increased exponentially over a very short geological time frame. The energy released alone is staggering, now compound that with our terraforming activates and you get a big plus in the humans can affect the planet column.

            Skippy…this world is smaller than most think…our excrement alone is a global problem…climate change is but one slice of the pie. I try and view the totality of it all and not get caught up in popular debate that’s driven by special interests.

            PS. It is tragic that we are forced to parse value in financial terms whilst the world is diminished so aggressively to create said financial value, a human value above all else…not so sapient sapiens methinks…watch out for those rouge waves…hundreds of years of sailing and only now are these events recognized by the authority’s…cough maritime boards, insurance company’s, bondholders et al.

  14. Paul Repstock

    I wish we had an option for deleting our own posts on this blog. My prvious posts were unecessary.

    The link was interesting though.

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